For those of you with an encyclopaedic knowledge of the music of 2004, Kristian Leontiou may be a familiar name. For everyone else, here’s aahr Graham with a quick reminder: Leontiou released a couple of singles and an album of chart-friendly, mildly experimental acoustic pop that saw him reach the Top 10 and then tumble from the collective memory.
Possessing a supple, clear as a bell vocal style – at times reminiscent of James Blunt – and an ear for a nice melody, Leontiou is back with a new band, the oddly capitalised One eskimO. Rather than appear in any of their videos, the band have taken the Gorillaz route by creating eye-catching cartoon graphics, with one of their videos already the proud recipient of a 2008 British Animation Award. This, however, is just about as exciting as it gets.
All Balloons is a pleasant enough 40 minutes of music, complete with swathes of keyboard, muted horns and a pace that barely rises above gentle jog. Produced by Faithless‘ Rollo Armstrong, the songs are all expertly crafted and nicely packaged. But who wants that these days? Even Rollo’s sister Dido took some risks with her latest album, albeit by leaving the choruses out and forgetting to actually promote the thing.
New single Kandi is a case in point. A catchy, laidback beat with gently plucked guitar is matched by Leontiou’s simple vocal when suddenly a female voice emerges for the chorus. Immediately, the song is transformed as the Candi Staton sample (taken from He Called Me Baby) kicks in, her powerful, emotive voice elevating the song to a level that it can’t sustain. Therein lies the real problem. Too many of the songs feel anaemic and bloodless, as if the chilly Eskimo theme has taken hold of the album itself. Things aren’t helped by the production, which smoothes over the edges, papers the cracks and laminates the whole thing so that songs seem distant, impenetrable.
There are moments of course where the melodies shine through: Astronauts is a beautiful, shimmering five minutes, Leontiou’s voice swirling around a distant beat, whilst Simpleday would be a perfect soundtrack for a beautiful sunset in a Richard Curtis film. (That could be a good thing.)
All Balloons is by no means an awful album, it’s just not one that sticks in the mind. It’s all one pace, perfect for a dinner party or if your CD collection contains albums by Jack Johnson, Faithless, Morcheeba or any of those Acoustic Chillout albums, but not if you enjoy anything as reckless as a surprise or two.