Leon Vynehall : Rare, Forever

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Three years ago Leon Vynehall released his debut album Nothing is Still. While officially his first studio album, it nonetheless subverted all expectations from a man who had built a name on the dancefloors of Brighton and Leicester. Inspired by the story of his grandparents emigrating from the UK to New York City, it was a rich and textured exploration of home and belonging that journeyed through ambient and neoclassical influences; a well-received left turn from the electronica EPs and DJ mixes that had come before. Now, with follow up Rare, Forever, Vynehall seeks to ground his work in his present. It’s an effort to distill the confluence of his vast range of influences into a singular style that tells its own story, a reflection of where his explorations have taken him while revelling in the freedom the past affords him in pushing his own boundaries.

It’s ambitious enough in intent, something Vynehall acknowledges: “After writing those ‘chronicle-heavy’ releases I started to think about what I wanted to do next, I wanted to write purely from the standpoint of free expression: whatever came to me is what I’d go with.” The result is indeed diverse and varied, but somehow never scattered. As though all pulled from a central feeling or essence. A light dusting will reveal the fingerprints of Nothing is Still all over it, and comparisons will of course be made, but Rare, Forever thrusts those elements into a forge and reshapes them; sometimes delicately, sometimes forcefully. It refuses to dwell on prettiness or pure texture, playing with sound in often grating and dissonant ways that bring to mind the likes of Tim Hecker or Aphex Twin. But even in the moments it pushes into more experimental territory it never loses sight of its grounding, remaining rooted in soul and sincerity and the narrative that plays out across the record.

Most striking is Vynehall planting a foot firmly back into the clubs that sparked his career. “Snakeskin ∞ Has Been” feels the most reversion to type, a steady dance beat driving it forward as he gives his sample pad a workout over the top, experimenting with myriad unique effects. It’s a doubling down on earlier glimpses of his background which allow for more subtle interpretations. Pulsing with rhythm, synth and soul samples, “Mothra” has EDM in its heart, but refuses to settle into any sort of steady flow. Instead it seeks out the space between its momentum, opening up into stillness and ambient soundscapes, catching its breath before descending into new renderings of the beat that underscores it. Meanwhile “An Exhale” feels drawn from the likes of Jon Hopkins in its production, expansive and surreal but branching forth from a hypnotic distant rhythm.

Vynehall finds room here for anything he puts his mind to. Opener “Ecce! Ego!” is steeped in post-punk, almost industrial influences of abrasive noise that puncture a rambling melody. Saxophone lines wind their way through closer “All I See is You, Velvet Brown”, the jazzy stylings permeating gorgeous ambient atmospherics. It could feel dense, even overblown if his masterful production didn’t keep a tight leash on proceedings. Instead we find attention to detail that makes each segment feel intentional rather than wild, treated to the results of countless hours of experimentation rather than the experimentation itself. It all makes Rare, Forever a fascinating listening experience and one that’s difficult to tear yourself away from, appreciating each subtle turn of events even as you fight the urge to simply move with the rhythm. With the contrasting excellence of Vynehall’s first two records to go by, there’s only a sense of excitement at what he might do next.

Label: Ninja Tune

Year: 2021

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