Listening Experience: The Leaf Library – Daylight Versions

From the moment I got Daylight Versions, I have been playing it over and over. I bought it on the strength of a single song I heard on The Leaf Library’s Bandcamp page. For once, my instincts were right. The band traffics in the type of atmospheric, motorik  pop pioneered by Neu! and popularised by Stereolab, though this London based quartet have far more warmth and humanity.

The opening three songs “Asleep between Stations,” “Tilting” and “Slow Spring” form a triumvirate of gorgeous pop music which provides a hint of the band’s strengths. Firstly, there are Kate Gibson’s vocals, which are responsible for much of the album’s immediate appeal. Sweet and restrained, her voice gives the words texture and depth and sounds more developed than on earlier recordings. It is this emotional element which takes the band’s sound beyond the Stereolab comparison. Moreover, the backing vocals have a swinging, sing-song feel which contrasts with, and adds tension to, Gibson’s steadier delivery. The saxophone at the end is unexpected and welcome.

“Tilting” veers more toward indie and could have worked as a more stripped back affair. That the band wove additional layers into the song is to their credit. Again, Gibson’s voice is a crucial part of the overall sound, sounding vulnerable yet not fey. It is simply open and inviting in a way music of this style rarely is. “Slow Spring” ups the groove somewhat. Over a lolloping beat, probably the most danceable on the album, the band manage to be both tight and spacious, further establishing their ability to write and record memorable pop.

The band are not opposed to experimenting within the realms of their style. “Acre” and “Sailing Days”, which come after the aforementioned first three songs, are both spacious and menacing, built around haunting vocal melodies and muted, squalling feedback washes. These tracks, perhaps the most atmospheric on the album, play to another of the band’s strengths – the combination of acoustic/organic sounds with the electronic. A later track “Summer Moon” has a certain folk feel without sounding out of place. The final song “Evening Gathers” manages to straddle the space between indie and modern classical without being anywhere near as pompous as that sounds.

At the risk of making this review a track-by-track run down, I need to mention “Rings of Saturn”, the stand-out song among a collection of brilliant songs. The band pull all the elements which have been touched on both Daylight Versions and on their debut Different Activities, Similar Diversions – the krautrock rhythms, the delicate harmonies, brooding arpeggios and the drone to create a masterpiece of dream pop. As much as I can pick out constituent parts, it is its completeness and self-assurance which make this a great song.

Throughout Daylight Versions, the band manage to balance the difficult act of forging a unique, signature style without sounding monotonous. The variety comes from details. Just as zooming in on a fractal throws up entrancing, mesmerising intricacies, the songs have an abundance of finely crafted moments to intrigue the listener. Also, like a fractal, the music is gorgeous from a distance and remains endlessly  so as you plumb the depths of its layers. This is an album to fall in love to, to fall in love with, to put on and fall and fall – never feeling like you’ll reach the earth.

Feature image by Kretzschmar

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