You want to hear something new, so you put on The Leisure Society. You imagine the band will be either something mellow or ironically not so with a name like that. The first song is called “Another Sunday Psalm” so you figure it’s the former, and you’re right: A soft shaker and some piano make nice with an acoustic guitar as singer Nick Hemming starts in with a plainsong folk delivery. What you’ve bought is what you’ve got, down to the warm harmonica solo. You kick your feet up and relax as track two comes in with a ’50s shuffle and tremolo guitar. The soft surprise of castanets gives you a bemused sigh.
As you begin a pleasant daydream, “Fight For Everyone” suddenly jars you with trumpet, thumping drums and bass and a rhythm not unlike Van Morrisson’s “Wild Night.” Even the vocals on this track are put through effects, forcing you to face the fact that there may be more to this record than a sunshine-filled lazy daze. Arpeggiated synths and even some punchy guitar work force you to take notice and make you damn curious about what’s to come. More rock guitars of course, but something in the arrangements doesn’t let the song rock quite like it should. There’s something too constrained, too clean.
A jazzy waltz gives us a break, soft and murky with pastoral horns and a poetic delivery. Then “All I Have Seen” comes in with some B3 and ’60s “doo-doo-doo-doos,” taking us at least to the doors of the church. Listener, you’ve been taken a lot of places at this point, so what else? Maybe a piano intro that sounds like “Linus and Lucy” by Vince Guaraldi or some Spanish guitar riffage? Some ragtime clarinet, or perhaps vaudeville sing along meets “Welcome Back Kotter?” Yes, Leisure Society gives you all of the above and a whole lot more.
The result is a whimsical record, vastly eclectic with the common thread of Hemming’s simple storytelling, sounding like a more laid-back version of the Mountain Goats’ John Darnielle living a much milder existence. But something about it doesn’t hold together, and you feel you might forget these songs as quickly as the theme changes. Though the variety prevents the album from just being the same soft lull for twelve tracks, the funkier/heavier/uptempo bits just don’t seem to come as naturally, and it all sounds a bit too studio. So perhaps you’ll see them in concert, where the honesty of the songwriting can come across as intended, carried by the cohesive wave of a live band.