It’s about the journey. Travel, of course, has long been the subject of folk songs, with their widescreen tales of the open road and longing for places miles distant. But, as much as the lyrics are about movement, so is the music itself, changing and shifting from place to place and time to time.
The widescreen scope of Americana may be an ocean apart from the wilds of Brighton, then, but its wistful heart can still be felt on Sleeper, The Leisure Society’s debut album. The relocation has added something, too: there’s a peculiarly British undertow at work, beneath the pedal steel and pastoral orchestration.
Band founders Christian Hardy (multi-instrumentalist and singer) and Nick Hemming (who can count Paddy Considine and Shane Meadows as former bandmates) draw from a diverse array of reference points, including Leonard Cohen, Neil Young and San Francisco’s Summer of Love.
Nine other members play a suitably eclectic selection of instruments: a double bass, a mandolin, a glockenspiel. A ukulele makes an appearance, too, avoiding genre cliché to quietly shimmer in the background of the lush ‘A Short Weekend Begins With Longing’. The song that follows is similarly beguiling, somehow combining classic Cohenisms (Spanish guitar, the minor fall and the major lift) with a pensive narrative charting a drunken journey home from a club.
In less certain hands, such melancholia – however literate – would risk casting a gloomy pallor over the music, but here it’s just another part of the multi-layered sound. Indeed, it’s the seemingly effortless way in which the band’s scattered inspirations – influences, instrumentation, cultures – are combined that proves to be the album’s greatest strength.
By the time Sleeper has reached exuberant recent single ‘A Matter of Time’ it doesn’t matter whether it’s originated from Brighton or San Francisco: it just feels natural. As Hardy sings on ‘The Last of the Melting Snow’: “American seems an awfully long way to go”. But, by getting from there to here, across genres and traditions, the band have produced something unique. It’s all about the journey…
Words: Matt Elton