Kiran Leonard, in the best possible way of course, just isn’t wired up right. At just 20 years old, this Oldham native has been writing songs since the age of 12, played all the instruments on his début album Bowler Hat Soup, and has already planned his third record, long before its release. First though comes Grapefruit, one of the most eclectic, baffling and downright brilliant albums you’ll hear all year.
You get the impression that Leonard has never uttered the phrase “nah, that seems like it may be a bit over the top”, and that’s what makes Grapefruit such a compelling listen. So, all ideas are welcome with nothing being too ‘out-there’- so if that means sixteen-minute long songs that sweep through about four different phases, or a thrash-punk song that sounds like The Mars Volta being put through a meat-grinder, so much the better.
Yet Leonard isn’t interested in creating weird little soundscapes just for the hell of it. He can write proper songs too, and it’s this factor that stops the more outlandish moments of Grapefruit (and there are many) from falling flat on their face. Pink Fruit is that aforementioned epic, and is just extraordinary – the sort of song that has you staring at the speakers in disbelief. There are some musical nods to Radiohead‘s Paranoid Android, especially in the sudden, excoriating guitar riffs, but it also manages to include a good few minutes in the middle of instruments droning and tuning up over some indecipherable studio chatter and a deceptively dreamy acoustic interlude. When it’s over you feel exhausted but also want to listen again immediately.
Leonard’s voice has echoes of Thom Yorke but also, most unmistakably, Jeff Buckley and Rufus Wainwright, especially on the album’s most conventional track, Half Ruined Already. Yet you never have the impression that Leonard’s doing an impression or wearing his influences on his sleeve: this has Leonard’s unique personality stamped all over it.
Sometimes you just have to laugh at the sheer ambition of the whole thing – Ondor Gongor sounds like Buckley covering a particularly incendiary At The Drive-In track and then, over the course of its ten minute running time, throws in some bewildering time signatures, endless guitar solos, some primal screaming and finishes with some chanting. Then that’s followed by Caiaphas In Fetters, which is pretty much a chamber ballad. Your head will spin trying to keep up with it all, but it’s well worth the effort.
Leonard’s is a world where everything is turned up to ten – instruments aren’t so much played as battered into submission, if there’s an excuse to scream some vocals then he’ll do it, and songs last just exactly how long he wants them to. As for what he’s actually singing about, it’s a bit of a mystery – at one point during Don’t Make Friends With Good People he suddenly babbles “I am Bob Bradley, derision attacks me, a private soliloquy”. It’s very much a stream of consciousness delivery, but given the insanity of the music that surrounds those lyrics, it makes a beautiful kind of sense.
Don’t expect any singalong catchy tunes, and certainly don’t expect to hear any potential hit singles, but Grapefruit is an exhilaratingly exciting album. At one point, Leonard bellows: “I am not boring, I am not boring”. Boring, he certainly is not.