From listening to ‘Lifenotes,’ the new record from British composer Clem Leek, one can intercept many of its qualities. The album is full bodied in its approach, in that it shows the musician in his most wide-ranging form to date. However it also houses a minimalist style that feels like new territory for an artist previously associated with scores of grander scope. Yet given the name of the record, and the fragmented, miniature compositions at hand, one senses an album that provides a snapshot into the artist’s life and the influences that have shaped his approach to sound creation.
Across this 16 track album, there seems to be three styles of recording at hand. These can in fact be drawn from the opening three songs. Starting with ‘Page 1,’ a familiar veil of ambient glitches and electronic noises are fused with gentle piano and violins. The second track ‘Past the Pasture and Beyond the Hill’ focuses more on stringed instruments with a slow diving electric guitar gracing the score and working in close tandem with soothing violins. The result is a pleasant molding of dreamy yet uplifting melodies. On track three the final aesthetic style of the album is established; that of the solo piano. Here listeners are treated to the minute, yet richly emotive playing that has become a prominent fixture within the experimental music scene. It is by no means a co-incidence that the artist cites fellow pianist Keith Kenniff as an influence on his music with the solo piano compositions holding a Goldmund-esque feel to them.
These styles are then referenced throughout the album, but not in a repeated order. Listeners will be sure to enjoy the ambient and field-recording infused songs like ‘The Middle Part’ and ‘November 11th’ while ‘The Diary I Kept’ holds shades of Max Richter in its take on piano scoring. Likewise, the graceful guitar play on ‘You’re So Very Far Away’ is certain to touch the emotions of listeners.
‘Lifenotes’ embodies many of the qualities that we love from a musical movement that is hard to classify as one particular style. A collection of songs that appear both personal and styled by many different influences, it is clear Clem Leek is a musician who is an avid listener as well as partaker within this musical foundation.
– Josh Atkin for Fluid Radio
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“.