In keeping with its pencil-drawn cover illustration, UK-based composer and multi-instrumentalist Clem Leek intentionally chose to keep Lifenotes‘ songs, in his own words, “very basic and raw.” But while there may be bedroom-styled production ambiance in play, there’s nothing unfinished about the material in terms of quality. The album’s sixteen pieces, old and new pieces alike, capture the full range of his composing gifts and command of multiple instruments, including piano, violin, and guitar, and software, such as Logic and Ableton Live. Some tracks are more piano-centered, while others use guitar as the point of lift-off. Regardless of the contrasts in arrangement, the material exudes a strong emotional punch, given the plaintive character of the songs and Leek’s willingness to wear his heart on his sleeve so openly.
The album’s pieces generally slot themselves into one of three categories: solo piano pieces, guitar settings, and field recordings-based meditations. Leek has sequenced the album, however, in such a way that the songs within each category type are dispersed, a move that camouflages to some degree the fact that the album’s material can be grouped into said categories. Regardless, “Breaking Down,” “Rain Song,” and “Trying Too Hard” are lovely piano settings that put Leek in the same category as Nils Frahm and Peter Broderick, as far as sensitivity and melodic gifts are concerned. One might even be reminded of Michael Nyman or Philip Glass when piano chords alternate so insistently during the lilting “The Diary I Never Kept.” Ambient noises are often audible, whether it be the creak of the piano bench or the instrument’s keys or someone making noise in an adjoining room, and rather than being distractions the sounds enhance the album’s personalized and intimate feel. One of the album’s prettiest pieces is “You’re So Very Far Away,” which is elevated by the graceful swoop and peal of the electric guitar, while “Past the Pasture and Beyond the Hill” is elevated by a violin’s mournful cry. Lifenotes covers many bases, as outdoors field recordings play a part in the recording, too, with a river’s flow and bird chirps heard respectively on the ambient settings “The Middle Part” and “November 11th,” and there’s also a rare excursion into experimental electro-acoustic drone territory (“Origami Soldiers”). Most of the songs are in the two-minute range, which on paper hardly seems long enough for a powerful emotional impact to be generated. Yet Leek manages to do so, with his compact vignettes enably inducing an affecting emotional response in the listener.