Score: 8.0 / 10
Adam Leonard returns with the first in an 8 part collection rather appropriately titled Octopus. Louder Than War’s Nat Lyon reviews.
This month, Adam Leonard started either the beginning, or the end, of a very ambitious undertaking. Over the course of eight months he is releasing eight albums, in a compendium that he refers to as “Octopus (Part 1-8)”. Leonard has been a consistent and significant contributor to the folk-tronic/experimental-rock genres, releasing eight (lots of eights in this review) albums and EPs over the past eleven years. The new Octopus series is intended as a something of a retrospective with recordings drawn from his archives of unreleased tracks, BBC sessions, and collaborations, mixed with new material.
If you have never heard Leonard’s music before, “Octopus, Part 1” is a great place to start. His influences are varied and numerous- from the opening pipe organ Fugue of Lord’s Station (a track from a split cassette EP with Pulco and The Unexpected Bowtie called “Relycs: Songs for Abandoned Tube Stations” the review of which can be read here) , Leonard winds through a very lo-fi cover of Lovely Rita, and an Ultravox/Gary Numan sounding “Film Noir.” From this short list, it’s pretty easy to guess that Adam Leonard is always working and is not interested in limiting himself to a singular stylistic niche. He is a talented and creative musician.
The quality of the recordings ranges from pristine studio quality to extremely lo-fi. The songs were recorded in multiple locations over several years. But the quality of each recording adds an expected, but quite pleasing character to every song on “Octopus, Part 1.” Every song has a different and distinct audio presence, and for me that made the album all the more interesting.
The eight tracks that comprise Octopus, Part 1 clock in at 33 minutes- and it’s a very enjoyable listen. The lyrics, arrangements, and performance are top notch on every track. Leonard is a very literary writer and almost all of the songs have a narrative quality. UFO over Bidston (see above), is a minimally arranged song about an alien encounter. The lines are short and the reportage is smart. When I first heard this song, my first impression was that if some one told me I was actually listening to a track from the Robyn Hitchcock rarities collection “When Thatcher Mauled Britain” I would totally believe it. On the more subdued acoustic songs (Lillian, I Love You and I’m Gonna Sleep With Myself) Leonard isn’t simply copying Hitchcock- but almost taking ironic, self-deprecating, observational ramblings to a new and almost smarter level.
The performance and arrangements on “Octopus, Part 1,” are mixed, but appropriate for each song and cross several genres. There is an enthusiastic solo acoustic version of Lovely Rita (that sounds like it was recorded on a portable cassette deck placed on some one’s kitchen table among the beer bottles)- and it totally works. The psychedlic synth-dirge of “Song of the Woodlice” borders on Eno-esque, with a pretty awesome guitar movement at the end of the song. Percussion is minimal on the album and consists mainly of tambourines, hand drums, and digital drum loops. On “Lillian, I Love You” the guitar becomes a percussive instrument- a very smart move that you have to listen closely to hear.
The album closer, “I’m Going To Sleep With Myself” provides a good summary of the spirit of the album, and perhaps the series. The lyrics list all of the things the narrator is not going to do- which seem to be the things that most people aspire to. Leonard takes pride and comfort in solitude in this song, as well as many of the other songs on Octopus, Part 1.
Adam Leonard chooses his words and his sounds very carefully, and this keeps Octopus, Part 1 interesting after repeated listens. I’m anxious to hear the next batches, dropping the 8th of each month until March. The album is being released on a “pay what you’d like” system via bandcamp- allowing you to vote fairly with your pocketbook. And you should, because this one is worth having.
All words by Nat Lyon. More work by Nat can be found at his Louder Than War Author Archive.