Kiran Leonard – ‘Grapefruit’ Review

Proggy Oldham singer with loads of brilliantly brain-frying ideas

Music history is littered with prodigiously talented mavericks who had outsized ideas but could never quite transfer them to a mass audience: everyone from Big Star’s Alex Chilton to Janelle Monáe.

Kiran Leonard, a restless, genre-less multi-instrumentalist from Oldham, may still prove to be one of those – but in the run-up to the release of his second album ‘Grapefruit’, there’s a swell of chatter growing around his remarkable, ambitious music.

Barely out of his teens, Leonard claims to have been listening to noisy Japanese eccentrics such as Boredoms and Melt-Banana since he was 10, and certainly displays the brash confidence of a far older auteur across these eight songs.

‘Pink Fruit’ was released late last year, an unlikely single at 16 minutes long. A many-segmented emotional rollercoaster, akin to Radiohead’s ‘Paranoid Android’ stretched to extremes, it shifts from itchy math-rock guitar to crunchy ’70s prog crescendos to drifting sections of delicate woodwind. Later on, ‘Grapefruit’ limits its songs to a comparatively punk-rock 10, nine or even eight minutes – put simply, if you think ‘self-indulgent’ is an insult, this isn’t for you.

Which isn’t to say that Leonard trades in abrasive ugliness: ‘Secret Police’ and ‘Caiaphas In Fetters’ are both swooning and string-based and perhaps in tune with an indie-rock culture that’s allowed the grandiose moves of Joanna Newsom and Sufjan Stevens to become successful. His vocal prowess is impressive too, capable of both swooning tonsil gymnastics (‘Öndöor Gongor’) and banshee-like roaring melodrama (‘Fireplace’). Comparisons to the late Jeff Buckley will likely result, but this dude is way more out to lunch.

Songs often start and finish with a bizarre inauspiciousness, as if Leonard and band are only half-bothered about servicing an audience. The last 45 seconds of ‘Caiaphas In Fetters’ consists of someone talking about Reader Rabbit, a 1980s educational computer game. ‘Exeter Services’ has a midsection of wholly atonal, free-jazz-like plucking and scraping.

Yet it all hangs inexplicably together, thanks to heavy doses of charm and wit, its ability to propel your emotions from thrilled to weepy to lovelorn in a trice – and the promise that Kiran Leonard might grow into a properly important figure in British rock.