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Into The Murky Water
The Leisure Society Into The Murky Water
Released 29 April 2011
Label Full Time Hobby
Length 44:20
Genre Folk, pop, rock
Website theleisuresociety.co.uk

The Leisure Society will be new to most, but, collectively, they have been knocking about for over a decade now, and this wealth of experience in the band is reflected in Into the Murky Water, an assured follow up to 2009’s aptly named debut The Sleeper. Unheralded and unhyped, the group have quietly built up a steady head of steam, culminating in two Ivor Novello award nominations for Best Song, unheard of for a band not signed to a major label, but richly deserved nonetheless for a group whose back-to-basics folk has seen them compared favourably to media darlings such as Fleet Foxes and Bon Ivor.

London native Nick Henning is the brains behind the operation, himself a veteran of 90s indie outfit She Talks To Angels alongside actor Paddy Considine and director Shane Meadows, for whom he has done occasional soundtrack work, notably Dead Man’s Shoes and A Room for Romeo Brass. The Leisure Society sees Henning following in a long line of songwriters who have taken their inspiration from Ray Davies and sought to paint a portrait of England that is both critical and idealised, suffused with wistful nostalgia for a time and a place which probably never existed.

The album begins with the title track, which, in a neat twist, transports the listener up rather than down, into a clear blue sky, heralded by an angelic chorus, backed up by a celestial orchestra with flute and strings to the fore, accompanied by a beguiling array of percussive embellishments. The Leisure Society are nine-strong, which can lead to complications, but under Henning’s guidance they generally manage to find the right balance arrangement wise, ensuring that the listener is not simply bombarded with a wall of sound, but rather, the songs build organically, and there is a real sense of spatial awareness.

Second track 'Dust on the Dancefloor' is another case in point, a West Coast pop gem in essence, vocals and clean guitar locked down by a spacious rhythm section, recalling 1967, Love, and The Mamas and the Papas, complete with a hint of gospel in the soaring chorus. How they overlooked this as the opening single is simply baffling. 'Our Hearts Burn Like Damp Matches' is another early highlight which calls to mind the sentiments of Roger Waters when he sang, "hanging on in quiet desperation is the English way" a generation ago.

Lyrically, Henning shares Waters’ critical view of the world, but without the bitterness, the sneer, or indeed the pessimism. Musically The Leisure Society have the depth and range of prog, minus the self indulgence, preferring a much earthier, home-spun folk, with touches of country thrown in. Four tracks in, 'You Keep Me Talking' represents a rare miscalculation, bouncing along a little too sweetly, but that is swiftly counteracted by 'Although We All Are Lost', which, with its hymnal quality, returns the album to the safer ground of mild disenchantment with slivers of optimism shining through. The second half of the album kicks off strongly with 'This Phantom Life', the lead single, which manages to find just about the right balance, with its jaunty rhythms and jig-like melodies in the string section. It gets bonus points for featuring Brian from Spaced (Mark Heap) in the video.

If there is a sense that the interest wanes over the latter half of the album, it is mitigated by the extremely strong opening tracks. The beauty of Into The Murky Water is that it is the sound of a band that don’t take themselves too seriously and have a strong sense of their musical identity, regardless of the vagaries of what is or isn’t fashionable at a given point in time. The album exudes the self assurance of a group of musicians who’ve largely been there before, and have little appetite to whore themselves out for fifteen minutes of hype as the next big thing. The Leisure Society are not a cool band, it has to be said. In fact, they’re a band your mum would probably really like. If you can’t get past that fact, they’re not for you. If you can, expect to be pleasantly surprised.

- Ken O’Meara