Released just as the daffodils are on the wane, the confident debut album by this Brighton/London-based group suggests they've been hard at work over the winter, in spite of their moniker. The Sleeper is lush, pastoral and very English, but also peppered with wistful American influences from simpler times - most obviously the 1960s. Though occasionally twee and chocolate box pretty, it's garlanded with lovely melodies that soon anchor themselves in the memory.
Singer/multi-instrumentalist Nick Hemming (ukulele, mandolin, banjo, guitar) and keyboardist Christian Hardy form the core of the group, with impressive arrangements also featuring strings, flute, pedal steel, glockenspiel, and thumb piano among other instruments. Hemming's voice is easy on the ear,
whether unadorned or cloaked in close harmonies that sometimes echo The Beatles. The closest comparison might be The Divine Comedy's Neil Hannon - without the sardonic humour - but there are other times where both his tone and the tunes suggest influences as diverse as Squeeze, The Kinks and Teenage Fanclub.
The Leisure Society's debut single The Last Of The Melting Snow is a swooning, instantly accessible waltz and was deservedly lapped up by BBC radio at the end of last year. New single A Matter Of Time is even better - an ambitious, multi-layered song that unfolds over six minutes with the inexorable, melodic logic of all great pop music.
The album does sag significantly on its second half, beginning with The Darkest Place I Know (where style wins out over content), the lightweight ditty Are We Happy? and the pleasant but unexceptional country chug of Come To Your Senses.
But there are enough other highlights to ensure The Sleeper adds up more than two great singles and some filler. The post-apocalyptic nature imagery of the title track hints at Fleet Foxes, while A Short Weekend Begins With Longing sounds like a lost artefact from San Francisco's Summer Of Love. We Were Wasted shamelessly nicks the guitar motif from Leonard Cohen's The Stranger Song to nifty effect, and the euphoric rush of Love's Enormous Wings has a satisfying sense of resolution, which makes it a fitting closer. --Jon Lusk
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Midlands folk collective's disarming debut. 'America seems an awfully long way to go,' sings The Leisure Society's Christian Hardy on their sweetly turned single The Last Of The Melting Snow. Fair point, but if they'd claimed to hail from Burton, Nebraska rather than Burton-on-Trent, and recorded this beautifully pastoral debut album in a log cabin, we'd surely be falling at their feet. Despite their prosaic origins, Nick Hemming's gang will charm many an ear with the ukelele-laced musings of A Short Weekend, while the minor falls, major lifts and Cohenesque Spanish guitar of We Were Wasted are offset by unlikely references to driving home drunk froma nightclub. In short, they've created a sound steeped in the finest folk-pop traditions while retaining a very British streak of humour and individuality. America's loss; surely our gain. (Johnny Sharp) --Mojo (March 2009, 4 stars)
Their sublime, string-filled debut single, 'The Last of the Melting Snow', was chosen by Elbow's Guy Garvey as his single of the year. And this, their first LP, is full of a similar northern England charm akin to the Mercury winners. From the delicate seed of 'A Fighting Chance', this album grows to a sweet whimsy that delights in a spring time ambience. Close your eyes and you can see the flowers blossom. The lyrics offer a dark nuance though, turning both comic and sombre in a way you d expect from a collective that once counted film director Shane Meadows and actor Paddy Considine amongst its number. Nick Hardy and Christian Hemming have used a folk past to create a pop album of precious subtlety. Even the ukulele makes itself welcome, without the cringe of it sounding like a novelty. This isn t just a debut that promises big things for the future, it s one that delivers greatness already. (Thomas Meek) --The List (Issue 623, Feb 19th 2009, 5 stars)