leisure society

The Leisure Society – The Fine Art of Hanging On

The Leisure Society are the Brighton band that are likely to always be remembered as the band that, against all the odds, secured two consecutive Ivor Novello Award nominations, the first of which for ‘The Last of the Melting Snow’, a modern pop masterpiece. That is a claim to fame for anybody to be proud of, but it is also a shackle that they would probably appreciate wasn’t part of every introduction of a new record. It shouldn’t define them, and this, their fourth album, is entirely capable of standing its ground.

Whilst there may be nothing of the timelessness of ‘The Last of the Melting Snow’ here, there is never a shortage of human tenderness or dignity. In a musical climate where the crowd-funded anaesthesia of a chart-topping Mumford & Sons is the most visible exponent of folk rock, The Leisure Society’s humble honesty is a restorative tonic. The most affecting of the songs here is ‘All Is Now’, a beautiful, understated, melancholic observation of trying to do the right thing, just to be met with a new perspective in the morning. It calls to mind the wellspring of emotion you might expect from Rufus Wainwright or I Am Kloot’s John Bramwell. It is grand, but it does not need to shout at you to prove it – it is The Leisure Society in a nutshell.

And yet it isn’t all sombre this time around for band leader Nick Hemming. ‘Nothing Like This’ displays a Divine Comedy-like retro 90s playfulness from the outset, with a chirpy melody supported by flashlights of string blasts and simple, flighty, baroque piano flourishes. It is a song for the dawn of summer. Later in the album, ‘Wide Eyed at Villains’ sees them diving back into the toolbox, this time unearthing triumphant brass exultations, cascading strings and distant choral echoes to play out their drama. The high-energy pace serves them well, and is underused by the band.

It is understandable in this instance though, as much of The Fine Art of Hanging On was written in the shadow of the passing of a friend of Nick Hemming from cancer. The song ‘Outside In’, as much as any other, cuts to the core of the album’s character – it plays as a tale of frustration at our slowness to embrace life at its fullest. “In your heart you know you’re worth, more than you were ever told”, Hemming sings, pleading with us, himself perhaps, to look nowhere but inside ourselves to find the strength that modern life demands of us. Much of the album, from the title down, can be read this way, and despite the obvious pain, inspiration can be found throughout.

What follows ‘Outside In’, however, is the chugging, banal, electric guitar led ‘I’m a Setting Sun’. It is unusual for the band to go down the classic rock instrumentation path, and they show little desire to step beyond a basic formula, and the transition jolts awkwardly. It stands at the album’s midpoint, but rather than offering a focal point, the momentum is lost. Fortunately, this is a temporary excursion, and the second half of The Fine Art of Hanging On finds them back on home territory.

The Leisure Society are not going to steal headlines – their music on first exposure can seem unremarkable. Charming but inessential, a band you might skip straight past in the search for your next musical crush. But, as they set out in ‘The Undefeated Ego’, “Fight, you know you have to, you do it every day/A search for hidden meaning, in everything you see.” Their records have a welcoming, fire-lit appeal that is only revealed with familiarity, a dependable friend whose presence can top up your spirits when in need. If you have spent time with The Leisure Society before, you will know this; if you haven’t, the initial apparent modesty of their music may leave you in doubt. It shouldn’t, give it another listen.

8 out of 11

Release Date 13/04/2015 (Full Time Hobby)

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Max Pilley

I'm a refugee in Manchester, having successfully escaped Birmingham in 2007. I'm a soon-to-be journalism student, used to edit the music section of the Manchester Uni paper, and have done a little radio production to boot. I've been adding bits and pieces to Silent Radio since 2012, mostly gig reviews, but a few albums too. Also hoping now to get involved with the brilliant radio show. When doing none of that, you can usually find me at some gig venue somewhere around town.