“Kiran Leonard (No 1,520)
He’s 17 and supremely, eclectically gifted – meet the Manc mutha of invention”
Hometown: Dobcross, Oldham.
The lineup: Kiran Leonard (vocals, instruments).
The background: Kiran Leonard is a singer-songwriter from near Manchester, but another kid busker with a soulful voice he ain’t. Record companies searching for the next Ed Sheeran can probably look away now (he’s not even the next Ed Harcourt, although that’s a lot closer). One of the tracks on his album, Bowler Hat Soup – which isn’t even his debut, despite the fact he’s only 17 – sounds like a hardcore band playing a show tune. Others remind us of Ariel Pink in a tussle with Aphex Twin, and Van Dyke Parks if he were remaking Song Cycle less as a tumble of musicals and Americana and more as a jumble of music hall and Monty Python.
Needless to say, Leonard is more Frank Zappa than Frank Turner. Bowler Hat Soup includes 16 tracks and features Leonard playing everything bar a swordfish trombone, from the usual piano and guitar to a grill. There are as many ideas as there are instruments (22 at last count, give or take a cajón and a mandolin). Hell, his press release contains more ideas than most records by people twice his age. He describes his album as “a hexadecagonal pseudo-fortress of occasionally caustic and semi-illiterate pop nonsense” and, employing a decidedly regal third-person, “suspects the whole thing is a little schizophrenic and relentless” while tacitly acknowledging the benefits of such qualities. He is “a firm believer in the exponential curve that connects the power and excellence of a show with its number of drummers” and “claims his music is capable of causing uncontrollable bouts of hysteria”.
We’re not laughing, we’re gawping. At this boy – signed to producer Paul Epworth’s sister Mary’s label – who knows how to spell Nietzsche and leitmotif, and who, not surprisingly, has been described by sources we trust as “freakishly savantish”. His music, as we say, moves rapidly between prog-pop, scuzz-rock and a dozen other places, some of which have no name. From the baroque tumult that is opener Dear Lincoln to the closing track, A Purpose, performed on an 1898 American reed organ, there is no let-up. It is psych-cabaret one minute, avant-chamber pop the next. There are handclaps and harmoniums, and an agglomeration of non-rock styles that posit Leonard as a sort of teenage Brit Van Dyke. There’s No Future in Us is a mad Ariel Pink hurtle wherein Leonard’s voice is treated not so much to Auto-Tune as Manual Distort. Oakland Highball is metal vaudeville or acoustic thrash.
Apparently, his previous album opened with a 26-minute prog-jazz opus called the Big Fish. We’re actually scared to check it out. Before that, he made electronic music under the name Pend Oreille. Not for nothing have some suspected Leonard is some kind of brilliant hoaxer. Either way, you want to applaud him. “I have never attempted anything this complex or grandiose,” he says. He explains that lyrically he “began to semantically group certain themes – songs about my family and friends, of love and war, and also alcohol consumption” – as he progressed. He adds: “To have finally seen its completion is an overwhelming and wonderful feeling.” We can only imagine.
The buzz: “Jesus, what a talent.”
The truth: We doff our (bowler) hats to this young chap.
Most likely to: Pend belief.
Least likely to: Sign to a major.
What to buy: Bowler Hat Soup will be released by Hand Of Glory on a limited run of 300 vinyl records on 26 August.
File next to: Ed Harcourt, Rufus Wainwright, Frank Zappa, Harry Nilsson.