Saint Leonard is one of those artists where you scratch the surface of their work and find an amazing depth: layer upon layer of meaning, reflection, and craft go beyond just songwriting to put together an experience that is both introspection and connection. It is so with his past music, for which the label of dreamy pop might feel, if fairly accurate to the sound, decidedly restrictive when it comes to the scope of the ambition behind it; and even more so with this new single, ‘Soul Survivors,’ announced for release as the harbinger of a new, forthcoming record that promises to embark in a different and more experimental direction.
Perhaps appropriately given its title, the track is soulful in content and sound alike. The lyrics easily resonate with contemporary anxieties we are all familiar with, but rather than indulge in doom-and-gloom musings as so much art these days might be tempted to do, they take a broader, more intimate, more hopeful approach, speaking of connection and offering a longer perspective beyond the current uncertainty. It is, after all, a song about survivors, and so there is something very powerful – and empowering – in hearing it state, in an apparent contradiction turned promise, “Economies turn to dust/ Things fall apart/ Such a strange new start.” The repetition of “I hope you’re OK” throughout the song echoes words we all find ourselves speaking all too often these days, and creates a sense of deep, direct connection between artist and listener – as if the song is speaking to each of us directly.
Musically, there is so much to unpack, also: from influences to innovations, it is a clever and well put-together piece of composition, which takes the building blocks of pop and classic rock and blends them together with a robust rhythm section and clean, bright vocals. There is definitely something reminiscent of Bowie, the Berlin years, especially in the instrumental sections and most of all in the opening part, but there is so much more also: something that might resemble George Harrison’s solo work, subtle sax phrases that are almost drawn from the purest blues traditions, an airiness to the sound that incorporates something of the legacy of Syd Barrett’s songwriting. And then, of course, there is also much that is entirely original to Saint Leonard, an ability to tie all of it up into something that shows how pop music can be fully capable of complexity – an important reminder, that, at a time that the mainstream pop trends tend more and more to the oversimplistic; a brightness and precision of sound that is as much performance as it is good production.
‘Soul Survivors’ is what pop music is supposed to sound like when it’s good, with a full awareness of its rock background and an inventive, daring eye to experimental possibilities. It is not swamped in the repetition of tried-and-tested soundbites, but it is solidly moored in a deep knowledge of what the best of rock music has done and able to move forward and put a new, enterprising slant on it. It is the kind of track that should come through the radio as an eye-opener to what the genre is capable of. As for what else Saint Leonard is capable of, I suspect that only time can tell.
‘Soul Survivors’ is out now on Isolar Records – available to Stream/Purchase here.