Nick Leng - SPIRALS (SOTA Records)

Nick Leng – SPIRALS (SOTA Records)

“You found somewhere to hide. Close your eyes and sort the mess. Bury thoughts in treasure chests. Tomorrow brings another day.” In the western part of the Californian county of Los Angeles there is a peaceful, mountainous place called Topanga. Adorned with waterfalls, streams and cliffs, while lacking petrol stations, big retail giants and hotels, it’s the perfect place to reside to when one either wants be absorbed by nature or is seeking to escape from the stress of a fast-paced modern life.

South African-born Nick Leng – who moved to the states as a child – has been weighed down by pressure and anxiety recently; this includes having to deal with an apartment fire, a dramatic break-up and the mourning of a friend. Furthermore, the California-raised musician found it a struggle to write the follow-up his 2020 debut LEMONS, among the chaos that an urban environment brings. So Topanga sounds like the perfect place for Leng to find himself again.

Lyrically Nick Leng’s second album SPIRALS, has the 29-year-old expressing the notes he scribed in his journal whilst living in a trailer park in Topanga. The apprehensive thoughts that were spiralling around his head and how he used this experience and the environment around him to become joyfully reborn. As he puts it on ‘Midnight (Reasonable Guy)’: “I swear sincerely, I’m alright. I’ll start on Monday when morning’s bright.”

‘My Mind is a Mess in the Morning’ was written during a time when his temporary trailer was infested with rats and on the track Leng sounds understandably disorientated and self-deprecating. “Tried to find some forgiveness in my bed. And the more I float away, the more your loving fills my day. I’m amazed that you wanted someone like me.”

‘Two Birds’ – which could seamlessly fit on a Kishi Bashi album with Leng adopting a similar falsetto – is even more evocative as it features atmospheric noises of avian creatures, helping depict the idyllic landscape he finds himself in. “Physical pain for my regrets. But I won’t give up til I am dead. I’ll go to the end with a fight! I saw two birds outside my window. I saw them flying to be free”, expresses the new vigour that Leng’s surroundings have sparked. The steam train sound that connects ‘Two Birds‘ with its preceding track ‘Platform’ – a track that adopts a Sondre Lerche style of 3rd person writing – is one of many examples that SPIRALS uses to make the 15-track album flow cohesively.

What makes the compelling SPIRALS even more effective is how majestic and tactile his compositions are. The aforementioned anxiety is shown through tension and suspense that lead to outbursts of euphoria, manifested with sudden sound shifts and big band crescendos. The skeleton of Nick Leng’s songs are his classically trained piano, which this itself is performed in different styles. On what could be considered the apex of Leng’s power – the self-titled ‘Spirals‘ – the piano has ragtime style that gives it cobwebs of nostalgia and is performed after an outpouring of emotion (Leng’s howling voice has a touch of Pond’s Nick Allbrook about it) and a nausea-inducing, circus-like chaos that reminiscent of a Baz Luhrmann film. ‘Morning’ also uses the piano as a starting point but in a rather more unorthodox manner as he chops and splices old recordings and put them alongside church bells and a harmonica to create disjointed beauty.

Leng experiments with tension on opener ‘Forget About Me’. Calming piano becomes bedevilled by the chilling cello of Scandi-Noir. There’s a sense of false safety when it detours momentarily into spinning alt-electronica in an approach somewhere between James Blake and Little Dragon before the uneasiness returns in another example of a stunning climax to a Nick Leng song. Furthermore, ‘Candles’ is a similar track with its juxtaposition of relaxing and haunting moments but the lyrics are rather more worrying: “I’ll call out the pain that’s crowding our veins. I can’t scream enough when I can’t hear your name.”

Despite all the clever production and dramatic transformations, it’s the simplistic beauty of ‘Easy’ that’s perhaps the highlight of SPIRALS’. The harmonic folk track, that’s reminiscent of Fleet Foxes, hints at that Nick Leng has stripped away his anguish, joined Topanga’s bohemian culture, and is lying down peacefully whilst overlooking the Santa Monica Mountains, after reaching an enlightened state of tranquillity.


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God is in the TV is an online music and culture fanzine founded in Cardiff by the editor Bill Cummings in 2003. GIITTV Bill has developed the site with the aid of a team of sub-editors and writers from across Britain, covering a wide range of music from unsigned and independent artists to major releases.