, April 4th, 2016 09:58
"Ambitious" is going to be a word thrust into many reviews of Kiran Leonard's second stab at the long-playing form, Grapefruit. His insistent, hyper-kinetic approach to music composition, theory and delivery is a whirling dervish of audacious alacrity, coupled with a ridiculous amount of talent. Such precociousness can be confrontational, celebratory, provocative or perverse – and here he manages all of these emotions and more.
This knotty sense of cerebral ambition versus scattershot affectation is evident from the off when the album opens somewhat innocuously – a chamber piece of MOR in 'Secret Police'. Leonard sits at the piano, swooning and crooning like a Rufus Wainwright or a (dare I say it) David Gray, or even (gulp) Michael Buble. In fact this is an aural act of subterfuge, one of many that litter Grapefruit – the lyrics poignantly connote the idea of what art represents under oppression and sanction; the song has a middle third that coalesces into an apocryphal choral epiphany, buoyed by glittering percussion yet with slightly shadowed intent. It's a song that will divide listeners from the get-go – baiting some to continue on the ride despite these "mainstream" flourishes, to derive meaning through effort, and offering others a false sense of security, presenting a bright songwriter knocking on the door of the top 40 charts and the green room of the Pyramid Stage.
'Pink Fruit' follows on the sonorous heels of 'Secret Police' and obliterates any and all preconceptions. Effectively the centrepiece of Grapefruit, it is a sixteen-minute odyssey of umpteen suites, scales, and styles. If there is a blueprint to what Leonard does, it's right here. There's the machinations math-rock noodling; metronomic post-punk; string-shredding flails; quiet anti-folk; sound recordings; sweeping cinematic pop; lightning-and-thunder percussive breakdowns; weary pastoral folk; no-wave meltdowns; hippy psych drone; site-specific production where you hear the creaking of a chair and the shifting of paper; the clearing of a throat… This is the id and the superego of Leonard, going at it hammer and tongs, all thoughts and influences thrown into the Hadron Collider of the rolling tape, with the mediating ego asleep at the wheel. Britt Walford, Jonny Greenwood, Thom Yorke, Thurston Moore, Kevin Drew, Warren Ellis, Stuart Braithwaite, David Longstreth, Richard Dawson – the bowerbird checklist of artistic style could go on and on. Yet it's the sheer audacity that Leonard would endeavour to create this and foist it upon us that truly works to alienate or ingratiate. Here is an artist who wants us to work for our sonic supper.
And there is still a lot to take in here – 'Öndör Gongor' is a Lovecraftian sea shanty that rocks and rolls under drunken duress that (d)evolves into a cataclysmic caterwaul of voice and guitar before drifting off into space, with the Mighty Boosh and Don Caballero doffing their caps as he sets sail; 'Exeter Services' runs down a dumb proto-punk gutter blast that ruptures into jewellery box whimsy. 'Caiaphas In Fetters' is pinafore experimental Beatles territory that abruptly ends with a Dictaphone recording of a friend explaining their love of an educational computer game. Closer 'Fireplace' shudders and skitters with Dirty Three deconstruction meets Andrew Bird esotericism before disintegrating altogether, like a piano dropped from a Brutalist building. Female vocals lend a ballroom class as the threads continue to unravel, the two of them panting out the end of the record, consoling one another, the Yin-yang of human form in foetal positions.
Then there is the continued shift in vocal delivery and verbose-to-obtuse lyrical imagery. 'Half-Ruined Already' is a quiet fingerpicked folk song, albeit with grandiose and acrobatic vocal tomfoolery. At around the halfway mark of 'Pink Fruit', Leonard starts to drawl and sneer with laconic yet sinister intent, like Gareth Liddiard from Australian act The Drones, before delving into a barked offering, to shouts, to Jeff Buckley larynx stretches. 'Exeter Services' and 'Don't Make Friends With Good People' is off-kilter catharsis, a mewled voice like that of Liddiard or another Aussie, Glen Schenau of Per Purpose. The lyrics themselves are knotted emulsions of themes, plots, narrative arcs and existentialist threads – all harbouring around the Lynchian image of a woman copulating with a squid. It is a mental vomit of eagerly attained and digested knowledge, barely curdled and broken down before projected outwards once more. And like any such purge, these efforts will be too acrid to some, like waiting for a ceaselessly roiling sea to abate.
The last two words uttered on 'Pink Fruit' is a recording of someone who sounds suspiciously like William Shatner saying "John Henry", the name of the African-American folk hero who has been immortalised by many artists in the past, most notably the late Jason Molina. Or it could be referring to Garrett Dillahunt's character from the underground sci-fi TV series The Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles. It's this merging of high and low culture, the obliteration of form and repairing through remastered genre and invention, this hyperactive blurring of musical lines, that makes Leonard's efforts mightily ambitious cerebral fare for someone just capping their second decade on this earth. It doesn't always work, but that's what makes Grapefruit live up to its name – the epitome of an acquired taste; one that, when hooked on the intricacies and possibilities of its flavour, opens up so much potential for the future.