Leon III melts minds and genres in new album
Somewhere sitting alone in a rocking chair in America, there lives an old man. His senses slightly fried from Pink Floyd a little too loud and too many Grateful Dead concerts. Yet this man is tired. He has listened to The Dark Side of the Moon forward and backward about a dozen times. He has seen every four-hour jam show that the Grateful Dead has put out on CD. He needs something new. Enter, Leon III and their psychedelic Texan brand of genre-bending.
In their sophomore album, Antlers in Velvet, lead singer—as well as guitarist, keyboardist, pianist and the master of the omnichord—Andy Stepanian breathes life into a left-for-dead form of music.
“Fly Migrator” opens the album with a taste of the jam-oriented vitality that they bring to their music. Playful guitars jump over a quick yet rhythmic drum beat. It continues to build until rock-guitars break the muddled tension, leading people into Stepanian’s salty and mind-expanding voice. Though being backed up by the other member of the duo, Mason Brent’s singular voice, it sounds as if dozens of voices are singing. To add to this, a classic rock guitar solo, only in its essence, is played. The spin comes with the modulation added to all the instruments during this solo. The man in his rocking chair lights his cigar to this song.
Chaos finds its way home and enters into the realm of calm from “Fly Migrator” onto “Faint Repeater.” Easily the most powerful track on the record, drums, guitars and piano guide this hauntingly beautiful melody. The snare of the kit is hit quickly every few beats, adding to the almost militaristic-type rhythm that this song commands. Though at the same time, the additional light instrumentation takes the pressure off and shows the introspection and emotion that this song truly possesses. The man in the rocking chair ponders his past transgressions during this one.
“The Whisper is Ours” comes with a story. In a wild turn of events, Stepanian told mxdwn:
“There was a particularly grizzly incident in Houston, (where I lived when I was writing songs for this album) where a couple paid a hitman to kill both of their former spouses,” said Stepanian. “The ‘hitman’ proved to be an undercover police officer. I typically don’t get inspired by stuff like this but ‘The Whisper is Ours’ pulled from that tale. The song is hardly a literal recap of the story but an exploration of sharing a secret with someone.”
The song itself offers itself perfectly to the scene, opening in their typical intoxicating style until a western-sounding acoustic guitar breaks up the direction of the song. A mind-turning song for a baffling situation, the man in the rocking chair sips his coffee and thinks of the state of the world.
The title, “Skeletal Pines,” does not exactly describe the laid-back nature of the song. Groovy guitars fit right in between the cadenced crash of the snare and symbols. This song in particular shows their lyrical prowess: “Golden band on your nightstand, in the darkest hour will you still shine?” The man in the rocking chair remembers his past loves.
“Tigris” is a six-minute track that teases people with 59 seconds of ambiance until the multiple guitars, rock drums and Stepanian’s pipes smack people across the face at the minute mark. From then on, it’s an all-out brawl between man, instrument and his demons. “I miss the days of alcohol” and “smiling, smoking, recumbent and supine.” The thrill and power of the song begins to fade as the narrator takes a deeper look into who he is. He ends with this: “Let yourself out, I’m going to sleep now, to vanish into the haze.” The man in the rocking chair examines all the good and the bad that music has done to him.
Concluding this walk-through of sonic time and space, people hear “Antlers in Velvet.” This track is a testament to the power and talent that Stepanian has in his holster. Beginning with an ambient mess of noise, it graduates to a complex melody while still letting the vocals reign. Guitar chords strum and guide along this stagnant yet magnificent reflection. This young group shows years beyond their age in their depiction of growing older. “Antlers in Velvet” captures everything Antlers in Velvet has to offer. The man in the rocking chair puts out his cigar.
Leon III transcends musical biases. Jam bands or groups that thrive within a sea of chaos rarely showcase the passion that Leon III can, but their talent breaches the surface. This is an album to the fans of jam bands, to the fans of rock n’ roll, to the fans of alternative synthesizer music, to the fans of melody.