Clem Leek from Kent in the southeast of England is an ostensibly ambient composer who frankly invests too much emotion and melody in his music to be characterized as such. In less than two years since debuting as a recording artist, he has released an impressive amount of quality music and his international fan base is growing exponentially. “Lifenotes”, according to his own notes, is composed of pieces new and old, all close to his heart. So close that he plays it close to the vest by offering us mostly barest-bone sketches. Having persued rich and dense soundscapes in his previous work, “Lifenotes” is equivalent of back-to-basics folk – suggestions of suggestive moods in the spirit of Brian Eno´s very short pieces collected on the various “Music for Films” albums. The improvised piano sittings are intimate – you can hear his feet shift on the pedals – as are the solo electric guitar meditations. State of the art electronics are employed but leave little discernable trace. Opening appropriately with “Page One”, violinist Christoph Berg joins him to add a few deep strokes of the violin, but between that and his reappearance on “Closing (The End)”, the rest of the album is strictly a one-man show. Sixteen tracks scurry past in only thirty-five minutes. “My Little Boat” barely leaves the dock before it´s over. The rainfall almost drowning out “The Middle Part” is succeeded by an unseasonably warm “November 11th”, Remembrance Day, with a small choir of sparrows singing along with the piano and the drone which shadows it. Leek´s “Lifenotes” are as pastoral as a Wordsworth poem but then again, so really are many of fellow southeasterner Eno´s short pieces. Some of the more richly textuted pieces are vaunted and expansive, others are reticent and lo-fi. He is finding his own voice among similarly-inclined, conservatory-trained young composers like Nils Frahm, Dustin O´Halloran and Max Richter, all of whom make refined but accessible music. It´s too well-manicured for folk, but still has too much dirt under its fingernails to be chamber music for the salon. original review
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.
…according to our Brian on 14 October 2011.
This appears to be Clem Leek’s “24 Postcards in Colour” with around twice the amount of tracks as his lovely collection for Hibernate. Unfurling with sombre wisps of drift, piano flourishes and a Morse code track that I never want to fade out, I’m reminded heavily of the Le Lendemain CD from a couple of years back. Now we’re into the journey sights you may see are yearning chamber violin yawns seduced by sensual guitar exploration, sad-eyed choccie box piano interludes a la early Nils Frahm, meandering sun-kissed post-rock daydreams, vignettes comprised of field recording hiss and two-rooms-down-the-hallway piano and some lively birdsong sound-tracking some more longing piano musings. A sweet collection of briefer, charming pieces, lovingly rendered and presented in another sweet Christopher Robin-esque sleeve. I like this guys stuff lots and this seems like a nice counter-release to file alongside the brilliant ‘Holly Lane’.
Multi-instrumentalist creates a personal work of art
Clem Leek is a young lad with maturity far beyond his years, producing haunting pieces of neo-classical compositions which capture the full spectrum of emotions that we expierience throughout our existance. Aptly titled, the album features 16 exquisite tracks which are each a quick sketch on various pivotal moments in life; be they joyful or bleak. The multi-instrumentalist combines minimal guitar, piano and violin work with more experimental samples like bird song to create a release which drifts through the senses and oozes pure emotion.
The beauty of the album comes in its simplicity. Clem himself says; ‘For this cd it was all about getting back to basics and recording pieces which were simple, which happens to be my best way of writing’. And that’s what shines through on the record; the fact that Clem is obviously putting his heart and soul into each reflective track. It’s sometimes brooding, sometimes stark, sometimes uplifting but you can guarantee that every second of Lifenotes is rich, raw and genuine. This is one for the loner, content with turning the lights down low and embracing the resonant ‘soundworlds’ that Clem creates through his haunting piano pieces.
Taking inspiration from composers like Steve Rich and Philip Glass, it’s hard to believe that Clem only released his debut album last year as Lifenotes establishes itself as a work of a genius craftsmen able of producing delicate and intricate pieces with what feels like effortless splendour. One track is entitled; ‘The Diary I Never Kept’ which I think is what Lifenotes acts as; it’s a way of taking note of his young life thus far. Indeed Clem states; ‘Lifenotes is a combination of old and new pieces, each one is very close to me heart’. It’s this dichotomy between the old and new which I think echoes throughout the album; it is both a reflective look back and a tentative hope for the future.
Clem Leek’s CV makes for impressive reading. He earned a Creative Arts degree and a Masters in Music Composition from Bath Spa University and since then has released records on various labels. ‘Lifenotes’ can be seen as a compilation of sorts, since it assembles both old and new selections of his work so far.
With its fragments of static, stark piano and mournful strings, there’s the rarefied, pastoral air of Talk Talk or even Hood for the opener ‘Page One’. Leek adds colour via thunderstorms for ‘The Middle Part’ and bird song for ‘November 11th’ but otherwise he keeps things simple.
Solo piano compositions, such as ‘Breaking Down’, are interspersed with guitar instrumentals; with ‘You’re So Very Far Away’ representing an acoustic form of nostalgic yearning. By the finale ‘Closing’, the record has come full circle with a violin contribution to match the first track.
In this case, less is definitely more. Leek is a skilful and versatile performer with a great ear for melody, who relies on minimal electronic backing. ‘Lifenotes’ may not flow as easily as the best instrumental records but its highlights are numerous.
The album cover image may suggest this is another piano-based album. Not true, although the piano plays an important role.
The first two tracks on his new album Lifenotes clearly demonstrate that Clem Leek is a multi-instrumentalist, playing piano, as well as violin, guitar and various other instruments.
Along the album, the main instruments vary but the atmosphere remains effectively restrained.
“This CD was all about getting back to basics and recording pieces that were simple, which happens to be my best way of writing.”
“When your body hurts with emotion, only then do you know who you are.”
(inner sleeve statement)
Though Lifenotes may be an emotional album, that does not mean it’s a sad album.
Besides the different instruments Clem plays, he adds some delicate sound effects and field recordings to enhance the variety of acoustic images. This is what may distinguish his album somewhat from fellow contemporary musicians such as Peter Broderick, Max Richter, Nils Frahm, Dustin O’Halloran, and Helios/Goldmund/Keith Kenniff.
Lifenotes presents 16 tracks in just 35 minutes. This means the tracks are all short, in a range from under a minute to about three minutes for the longest tracks. They are Sketches, in a way, just like the beautiful album cover. Short notes, Lifenotes, indeed.
Piano, guitar, or subtle shortwave electronics (on Origami Soldiers): Clem Leek’s sound and compositions are right on spot. Sparsely coloured, restrained, but simple? I would not dare to call this pieces “simple“.