We’ve been doing a bit of thinking lately about the future of music, not so much the industry, the money-men do enough of that, but about the future of the music we as consumers will receive.
For people, of roughly our age; we thirty-somethings remember a different musical-era, a time when music was only portable in a limited fashion, only available if purchased in physical format, and compared to the modern musical world a considerably more restricted place. We are a generation who are in a way holding back musical future, we are the ones who’s minds are still restricted into the shapes of albums and singles.
After us though is not simply a different generation, there are numerous layers even to those people. Take Kiran Leonard, he’s now twenty years old, so born in the mid-1990’s, and he spoke recently to Lauren Laverne of a musical education at the hands of an older-brothers giant white iPod. Something that to our parents generation seemed like the future, to our generation the present, and to Kiran’s a sort of retro, almost nostalgic piece of kit. The era of the mp3 is already drawing to a close, portable music players revolutionised music, but they are now old hat, why carry music around in your pocket, when it can be formed and shaped out of messages that are actually just buzzing through the air. If you think about it too long you start to feel simultaneously amazed and terrified.
The re-emergence of vinyl is fascinating. It is, despite audiophiles bold claims, born almost entirely out of a desire to make music feel, in some way, like music used to feel. We want records as items that mark us out as fans, they’re partly to listen to, but more to express a part of who we are. As much as people predict their demise, there’s actually no real evidence that physical records are dying out. We’re asked to hark back to some distant glory day, but in reality what the major labels want us to do is go back to the 1990’s when we were horribly over-charged for slightly ugly compact discs in fragile, rapidly shattered plastic cases. They want us to believe the record industry is in peril, in reality it’s just back to where it was in the mid-1980s, music isn’t dying, it’s just the bloated nature of the majors has finally caught up with them.
Music does have plenty of challenges ahead though, in our opinion not least the rise of portable video. Even four of five years ago it was very rare to see anyone on a commute doing anything other than reading or listening to music, now in ever increasing numbers, people are watching videos, playing games. Music used to have a captive audience, the traveler now has considerably more options, and increasingly they are not captivated by music. Ultimately music will always exist in a world where people want to hear it, it’s perhaps not dwindling sales figures that the music industry should be worried about, but dwindling interest in their increasingly homogeneous product being packaged as the next big thing: the time is ripe to take a risk, and start reminding people just how exciting and varied music can be, especially when it’s driven by something other than money.
Kiran Leonard is often lauded with words like prodigious, mercurial, even a phrase rarely heard outside of football and classical music, wunderkind. The twenty year old from Oldham, via a stint studying Spanish and Portuguese at Oxford, is spectacularly ambitious, and hugely prolific, but is he actually any good?
Take Pink Fruit, the almost title track and first single from his new album Grapefruit. It’s over sixteen minutes long, much has been made of it’s genre fusing style, how unique and different it is, but anyone can write a long song, you just take a load of short songs and fuse them together right? Well, as so often in life, the answer is sort of. What Kiran achieves in this sixteen minute piece, is a fusing of a multitude of tiny ideas into something that actually works as a piece as a whole; no, it doesn’t always keep the listeners attention but that just adds to the drifting feel of the piece. It’s interesting that Kiran is the son of a folk musician, but in reality equally important to his sound was his brothers collection of post and math rock. The track is almost like a semi-rural English take on the winding, cinematic sketches of Godspeed You! Black Emperor, blurred with the angular, jarring rhythms of Hella. It has touch points in music you’ve heard before, whilst still sounding entirely the work of Kiran Leonard.
For better or worse, not all of Grapefruit is quite so jarringly odd as Pink Fruit. The albums second single, Secret Police is an entirely different beast; for starters it’s a much more manageable two and a half minutes long, but it’s also a considerably less frantic. Kiran noted the twin influences of Thom Yorke’s piano playing and Randy Newman (along with around thirty other factors, not least Andrew Graham Dixon’s documentary: The Art Of Russia and Fear) – and if you can comprehend the fusing of those two musical luminaries you won’t be too far off what Secret Police sounds like. It broods with the paranoid melancholy of Radiohead but has an unquestionable bounce, whisper it; it sounds like it’s been somewhere near a pop song. It builds from a desolate loop of piano, gently builds on a wash of lush strings, and then builds to an arresting stab of cacophonic noise, like a maths-rock Bond theme.
We normally like to try and read something into the lyrics of an artist, but Kiran really does give away little more than puzzle pieces; they sort of beg to be put together into something, but unless you’ve got the picture on the box and a lot of time on your hands, be prepared for this to remain a series of oddly shaped, unfinished pieces. “You’d realise if you turned to me, sleep temper at least it’s pure unlike folks in the cracker mirror” he sings in Pink Fruit, and whilst it poetically sounds alright, what it’s about? Well, it really is a case of over to you Kiran! Give us thirty years with the album and we might get close to forming a narrative, but like the output of his beloved Mars Volta, reading to much into the lyrics is unlikely to reveal any hidden truth. Leonard the lyricist, like Leonard the musician is not afraid of being over-thought, which can only be a good thing.
His scatter-gun approach to musical inspiration is probably the albums most recurring theme, it’s repetitive in it’s unrepetitiveness; so we get Half-Ruined Already, a gorgeous piece of Bert Jansch-like finger picked folk, but we also get Exeter Services, half Fugazi punk-rock blast and half spooky, distant half-finished meandering. Caiphas In Feathers is a gorgeous string-cycle in the Scott Walker or Van Dyke Parks mold, that ends somewhat inexplicably with a discussion about the likeness between Sibelius and the noise made by the educational computer game Read A Rabbit 2. Elsewhere the excellent titled Don’t Make Friends With Good People, starts off with a medieval lick courtesy of what sounds a bit like a lute, before making way for some thrillingly noisy crescendos; at one point during the song Kiran sings, “if you could see that I’m not boring now”, we think it’s fair to say Kiran, that you’re anything but.
So is he any good? You bet he is, but more than anything he’s very Kiran Leonard, and for an artist just making his first forays into a potentially long and fascinating musical journey, that’s quite possibly even more important than being good.
Grapefruit is out March 25th via Moshi Moshi. Kiran Leonard embarks on a UK tour this week, click HERE for all his upcoming shows.