Accolades from the great and the good aren’t everything, but nominations for an Ivor Novello Award are not handed out haphazardly, and Ray Davies and Brian Eno are by reputation not ones to slap just anybody on the back. But The Leisure Society have been in the running twice for the coveted gong, while Davies and Eno have both declared themselves fans. The Kinks mainman — who, in 2011, asked them to collaborate on his new songs — even invited the band to record their third album at his Konk Studios. In British songwriting terms, that’s pretty much a royal warrant of appointment.
Alone Aboard The Ark, then, arrives with some degree of expectation, but Nick Hemming and Christian Hardy, the quintet’s creative core, have managed to pull off another elegant and admirably underplayed orchestral-pop coup, while adding (on the perky “Fight For Everyone”) the synth to their instrumental toolbox. The band’s talent for crafting deceptively simple, hook-studded tunes that run both the stylistic and emotional gamut is again underlined, most strikingly on the segueing of the goodtime, Supergrass-toned “Tearing The Arches Down” into gorgeous, soft grey lament “The Sober Scent Of Paper,” which was partly inspired by Sylvia Plath’s death.
Their appreciation of artists as diverse as The Shins, Calexico, Rufus Wainwright, Chet Baker and, yes, The Kinks serves Hemming and Hardy well, but it’s their arranging skills and ear for complement and contrast that really make their mark. It would be easy for such talented multi-instrumentalists to over-egg their chamber-pop pudding, but there’s no hint of showing off here — just quietly dazzling confidence.