Sound — 8
Rolling in like a breeze after the warmly received "Into the Murky Water," The Leisure Society continues its tradition of folk-pop pleasantries on "Alone Aboard the Ark." Debuting in 2009 with "The Sleeper," the band has been called the UK's Grizzly Bear, being lauded by giants like Brian Eno (for what it's worth). Fronted by England's Nick Henning and Christian Hardy, the band immediately found an audience when its debut received appraisal from iTunes and the Ivors. "Into the Murky Water" lived up to its name with a slightly confrontational tone, implementing a delicate array of instrumentation that spotted darker shades on the band's typically sunny canvas. "Alone Aboard the Ark" is the pinnacle of fun-in-the-sun, preferring the bright side in nearly every track.
From the acoustic folk of "Another Sunday Psalm" to the peppy brass of "Fight for Everyone" and the jazzy closer "We Go Together," The Leisure Society tap-dances but ultimately stays within its own boundaries of English folk-pop. The result is as perfect a Summer album as one can imagine, consistently and skillfully painting the same delights and outlook. There's even something of a linearity, with the opener sounding vaguely morning breeze-ish and the record wrapping up under a pleasant sunset. "The Last in a Long Line" is a brief epilogue of sorts, with a bit of light pop-rock. Seeing a theme here? "Alone Aboard the Ark" is almost mercilessly upbeat, with even the aptly titled "The Sober Scent of Paper" sounding more pensive than pitiful. Wherever on the pop-to-folk-to-rock scale the album finds itself, it is somehow always enjoying itself.
With (mostly) minimal difference in quality from one track to the next, it's remarkably easy to breeze through "Alone Aboard the Ark." Doing so is also remarkably rewarding, perhaps moreso than on previous releases. The record is so chock full of dulcet tonality and melody that it's quite easy to glaze over some of the finer points. When absorbed fully and honestly, however, "Alone Aboard the Ark" almost has whispers of a masterpiece in the making. If The Beatles can get away with many of the same beats The Leisure Society alludes to, there's little can stop this band from chugging along to stardom, whether through jazzy bits like "Life Is a Cabriolet" or "One Man and His Fug"'s baroque-pop.
Lyrics — 8
If there's a hit-or-miss about The Leisure Society, it would definitely be in the vowels. Generally speaking, the vocal work is as pleasant as folk requires, but there is more than a bit of nasal work on display. Henning seems to have a particular problem with "E"s and "U"s, though "O"s are certainly no breeze either. Apart from that, he is certainly personable, if not as distinguishable as poppier acts (Coldplay, Keane, and so forth). He does deliver a certain warmth, flirting ever so slightly with the bright charisma of folk-pop hero James Taylor. As the musical style varies, so does Henning's disposition, whether it has him adopting an understated version of Lennon or small hints of smooth jazz.
The Ivor didn't find itself in the Society's lap for no reason: "Alone Aboard the Ark" is filled to the brim with pleasant, introspective, and smart lyricism. As previously stated, it is often difficult to comb through the pop sensibilities and enjoy some of the well folk for what it is, but doing so in the Leisure Society's case is immensely rewarding. Accompanied by the various states of Henning's vocal persona, the writing colors "Ark" in a wide array of clever brushstrokes. Having abandoned some of the (perhaps) melodrama of their previous release, the combination of tongue-in-cheek and pensive honesty makes this album readily available to delve at great depths into. Conceptually, it's pretty loose (as pop, folk, and pop-folk albums tend to be), but the thematic elements and statements of each song uncover sometimes deep convictions on the part of their creator.
Overall Impression — 8
Despite the arguably greater hubbub made about The Leisure Society's previous releases, "Alone Aboard the Ark" truly offers the greatest bounty. Strong lyricism, strong instrumentation, and overall great linearity work wonders even when Henning occasionally stumbles. On the whole, perhaps the record benefits from his doing so - Erika M Anderson (to keep things indie) certainly receives praise for rawness of vocal work. Regardless, whether it spends time depicting bright, resolute relationships as in "We Go Together" or the pessimism of "Forever Shall We Wait" (from which the album takes its title), the Society is as precise as any moment on "Murky" and as earnest as any on "Sleeper." Though generally poppier (definitely brassier and perhaps synthy in moments) than either, "Alone Aboard the Ark" holds as The Leisure Society's greatest statement and, as it now stands, the band's best work.