❉ Ten songs of gentle folk-pop which more than serves as a soothing balm in these troubled times.
“The daughter of original Yardbirds lead guitarist Top Topham, Léanie’s music encompasses folk and piano/guitar based pop, and nudges into the arena of dreampop or folktronica, in the style of, say, a more laid-back Beach House. Her lyrics are wise and clever, deep and meaningful, sometimes quite dark, and the atmosphere she creates is soothing, sensual and enthralling.”
Léanie Kaleido is a British singer-songwriter who has just released the rather whimsically-titled How to Weigh a Whale Without a Scale (yes, and the dreaded W-word will be invoked several times during this review – but don’t worry – it’s the good sort).
The daughter of original Yardbirds lead guitarist Top Topham, Léanie – who turned 50 last year and works as librarian at a school in East Grinstead – has released two previous albums, Karamelien in 2006, and, in 2014, Quicksands and Shadows, both of which I will investigate after hearing this.
In 2020, the year when everything changed, Mark Gardener from Ride invited her into his Oxford studio (he also plays guitar on a few tracks), and the result is this album: ten songs of gentle folk-pop which more than serves as a soothing balm in these troubled times.
Léanie has a very pure, sweet voice which recalls Beths Orton and Gibbons, but she brings her own distinctive wry ethereality to proceedings. Her music encompasses folk and piano / guitar based pop, and nudges into the arena of dreampop or the wrongly much-derided term ‘folktronica’, in the style of, say, a more laid-back Beach House. Her lyrics are wise and clever, deep and meaningful, sometimes quite dark, and the atmosphere she creates is soothing, sensual and enthralling.
Here’s my track-by-track review…
All The Things I’m Made Of
A beautiful piano-led ballad which somewhat recalls Tori Amos. Sets the template for the rest of the album.
Not the song by the same name by the aforementioned Beth Orton, this is an original song with gentle strummed guitar, a chiming instrument I cannot identify, and accompanying violin. Or viola (can you tell I’m not a musician). The lyrics are quite dark: ‘There’s a hole in my head where the dark gets in again’, but the tune is twinkling and the chorus is a proper ‘earworm’, as they say.
Back to the piano ballads and this has a lovely descending chord sequence over which Léanie sings about a homeless alcoholic former soldier (I could be wrong). Again the chorus is infectious (sorry, poor choice of word in these times, but there it is). ‘You fly like an eagle but shoot like a cannon, smile like Robert De Niro / Then you sink like a stone and crumble like paper and fade into nobody’s hero’. Haunting, and after three tracks it’s becoming apparent there is a depth and a darkness behind these outwardly sunny songs.
How to Weigh a Whale Without a Scale
The mellow melancholy mood continues in this, the title track. Again the tune is based on a circular, rolling sequence (musicians will know the proper term). There is an extremely beautiful orchestral break half-way through.
A short piece, just Léanie and guitar. It’s recorded so that her voice sounds extremely close-up. A summery, folky confection, this recalls one of Robyn Hitchcock’s insect-themed ditties – and believe me that is high praise indeed!
Side 2 (I still can’t help thinking this way) begins with another piano ballad that mirrors the first track. The melancholy is strong on this one, a song about being resigned to loneliness rather than being in a relationship, and then finding out after all that you are stronger on your own. The very definition of bitter-sweet. ‘Thrown in the towel broken and bruised, took off the gloves now cos I’m born to lose.’
A very dark song which touches on domestic violence, drugs and insanity. Piano is accompanied by twanging guitar (Mr Gardener, perhaps?), and militaristic drums in the chorus. ‘The silent weaponry, sometimes I wish he’d use his fists, so everyone could see.’ Heavy stuff, set to a beautiful melody. It’s this dichotomy which gives real depth and feeling to this material.
A spot of light relief, another short strummy one like Dragonfly, a simple, rather silly folky canter about, well, a stolen hat. The whimsy comes as a jolting change of gear after the previous two tracks, but the sheer joie-de-vivre of this is hard to resist.
A jaunty piano ballad backed with soaring strings. Lovely. More whimsy but it somehow manages to be quite moving. Léanie’s wordplay is particularly arch here: ‘I’m a teapot girl, I poured you out.’ And: ‘All I ever needed was room for my own loose-leaf dreams.’ She’s bang on there; loose-leaf tea is far superior to teabags; whatever the brand of teabag, you can taste the paper. Anyone who disagrees is an emissary of Sutekh.
Kite String Mantra
This brings proceedings to a close with serenity and style. Piano and twanging (musicians will know the correct term) guitar describe a swirling tune and Léanie uses the metaphor of flying kites to the full. ‘Even when you fall, you’re still flying – if you hold on to your kite string.’ It builds to a stately, psychedelic finale over a refrain of ‘Don’t let go.’ Wonderful, uplifting (sorry!) stuff.
This is exceedingly beautiful music by an extremely talented person who deserves a wider audience. Do yourself a favour and dive in, you will be soothed, relaxed, intrigued and transported to that other world to which only the very best music takes you.
❉ Léanie Kaleido’s single ‘All The Things I’m Made Of’ was released 20 February 2021. New album ‘How To Weigh A Whale Without A Scale’ releases digitally March 12, 2021 and will be available across online streaming platforms, including Apple Music and Spotify, from March 12. It can pre-ordered directly from the artist via Bandcamp.
❉ A regular contributor to We Are Cult, Nick Walters is the author of several Doctor Who novels including the Doctor Who Magazine award-winning Reckless Engineering. He has also written numerous SF and horror short stories. He lives in Bristol with his bike and his cat, his favourite band is The Fall, and his favourite Doctor Who is Tom Baker.