Thursday, March 29, 2012


I don’t like mixtapes with that flow between songs seamlessly. I like to be jolted between track A and B, for there to be no doubt that one has stopped and the other started. I guess Kiran Leonard is the same. He has certainly sequenced the opening of his free-to-download album “Bowler Hat Soup” that way. ‘Dear Lincoln’ is a stuttering Of Montreal theatrical piano-bashing romp that handbrake-turns into ‘Brunswick Street’ an off-cut from Robert Wyatt as sung by Rufus Wainwright. It fades out with carnival pipe-organ into ‘Port-Ainé’, one of the highlights of this sprawling record, which sounds like a bucolic Antlers camping out in Portland, Oregon – not a home-recording from Dobcross, Oldham.

Port-Ainé by Kiran Leonard

And the shape-shifting continues even if tracks do start to segue more smoothly. ‘Smilin’ Morn’ might start off as seemingly innocuous piano balladry but ends up somewhere distinctly odder, filled with the ivory-bashing ire of Michael Gira or The Dresden Dolls. ‘Oakland Highball’ is a feisty cocktail of sombre intoning, accordion, Zappa wig-out and about five different time signatures in under two minutes. This is only five out of sixteen songs – other songs continue to move restlessly between blues, prog-pop, scuzz-rock and a myriad of other musical reference points. Kiran describes it as ‘
densely packed’, noting that he plays over two dozen instruments on a record that took eighteen months to craft.

He’s not a first-timer when it comes to making music. His previous album ‘The Big Fish’ opened with a 26 minute ‘
prog-jazz epic’. Before that he made electronic music under the name Pend Oreille. And apparently Kiran is still only 16 years old. SIXTEEN. He's either a hoaxer or a genius or possibly both. Either way ‘Bowler Hat Soup’ is an extraordinary achievement: complex, ambitious and with a maturity that finds many seasoned song-writers lacking. It combines the precocious and prolific output of the young Conor Oberst (remember, three Bright Eyes albums before he was 20) with the singular, wayward free-spiritedness of Jeff Mangum. Forget what Kiran Leonard does with mixtapes, it's his own music for all its erratic eccentricity that's important here. This album is not perfect, some editing and honing wouldn’t go amiss to tame the wilder excesses, but Jesus, what a talent.

The album finishes with ‘A Purpose’ performed on an 1898 American reed organ (where does a sixteen year old get these instruments?). It simply consists of the sombre, swelling tones of that organ and solitary voice. It recalls with sad fondness cross-country bike rides and drinking pop but also sings of the mysteries of life, contemporary societal breakdown (“
I saw youths take substance / smashing our shelters / a lost generation”) and ultimately seeking a purpose in this world. It is deeply and mysteriously poignant, almost spiritual, and it moves me in ways I can't articulate. For all his energetic volatility, I think Kiran Leonard is well on the way to finding his purpose.

A Purpose by Kiran Leonard

Dear Lincoln by Kiran Leonard

Kiran Leonard Bowler Hat Soup [BUY]

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