Kiran Leonard: Western Culture review – chamber pop asking all the right questions

Moshi Moshi

The Saddleworth songwriter’s brilliant previous album Derevaun Seraun was a suite of hyper-personal responses to favourite pieces of literature; Western Culture is as outward-facing as that was inward-turning. Leonard confronts the failure of basic communication in our age of fake news and entrenched political positions, our paradoxical cultural moment where so much is being said with so little understood. There are some really valuable, even-handed messages: “There is no choice of answer when you’re desperate, when you’re kept from setting the agenda”, he sings on the beautifully episodic Legacy of Neglect. “The subject is left boxed in with the wrong question.” Here and elsewhere he laments how a political and financial class is ultimately to blame for the outpourings of hate and frustration lower down society’s rungs.

Most of these songs, when they finish, bustle out of a door and evaporate with no hooks left in your head. But played with a straightforward setup of guitars, drums and strings, their garage-y freshness make them a pleasure to fleetingly sit with – a little like the Chicago school of jazz-rock such as David Grubbs and Jim O’Rourke, with a Beefheartian energy that sometimes obscures the lyrical messages. That said, there are exceptional songs that do linger, particularly Unreflective Life, one of the best of the year. Its first half soulfully churns through math-rock time signatures, before quelling, Leonard almost whispering: “We are tethered and spent / spinning into the arms of a quiet inside / or a screaming antidote.” Insularity or rage are our only options left. The cathartic, intensely moving guitar solo that follows shows us another: beauty.

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