In the Greek myth of Hero and Leander, a young man (Leander) swims each night across the Hellespont to meet his lover (Hero). One night, however, Leander angers the Gods – or something like that – and drowns. Hero weeps and throws herself into the sea. The End.
It’s not immediately apparent, based on this tale, why London and Essex indie-rock upstarts Hero & Leander chose such a tragic, star-crossed name. After all, their music is hardly morose, and is certainly not Greek. But it isn’t too hard to guess, after a few spins of their debut album Tumble, how the group’s name fits. Because the myth tells of a great, whirling, chaotic storm; of a kind of godly ambience; and of human imperfection. And all of these things, for better or for worse, appear on Tumble. On their rollicking, ethereal debut, Hero & Leander do their rather epic namesake justice – with all of its glories, and many of its pitfalls.
The songwriting on Tumble, and the band’s eccentric instrumentations and atmospheres, make for music that sounds frankly like the closest thing possible to a holy riot. Tracks like Collider, with its Rolling Stones vocals and piano roll, and cloudy, Coldplay rhythm section, and the heady, orchestral, Everything Everything meets Arcade Fire meets Dirty Projectors meets James Brown mess of Soul To Soul, combine the physical and the otherworldly to great effect.
Elsewhere, this epic combination of influences is less successful: the tune itself on Everything Will Be, while dressed in a stunning, intricate arrangement, is a bit like a watered down combination of Chris Martin and Bright Eyes. Here Comes The Sun, too, falters a bit – in fact, it edges so closely towards theatricality that it comes off rather like a song on a musical theatre soundtrack; not a terrible thing generally, but in this case, not a great one.
It’s unclear, really, how much of this is the fault of the production, which is very audibly low budget. On some songs, this is to the band’s benefit: the tight, sax-laden, almost choral groove on Kettle sounds entirely live, which is incredibly impressive. However, for the most part, songs that have the enchanting potential to craft real sonic landscapes fail to do so – instead, they sound distractingly like recordings of a band with big ideas making the most of what they have. Perhaps the melody of Everything Will Be, re-recorded on day, will make perfect sense in fully realized, chamber-style production. But on Tumble, as it is, Hero & Leander find themselves in an imperfect position.
Imperfect, but promising. Sure, Tumble itself is a bit too long, as are many of its tracks, and if anything the chaos could use some tightening. So it’ll be some time until their tracks are refined enough to achieve significant radio play. But probably not too much time. Because with the kind of quirky, smartly-written “oh-ohs” and layered choruses on Tickle, and the sunny charm and grandiose choral vocals of Light Of My Night, the band asserts the kind of accessibility necessary for a real leap forward. And this, unlike their name, is very far from tragic.