With neither preamble nor prelude, Saint Leonard’s new release, ‘Dark Miracles,’ informs the listener, “Amphibians were never my friends...” Curiosity is piqued, attention grabbed. Yet before I can come to grips with my own ambivalent feelings toward frogs, salamanders and assorted newts, Saint Leonard clarifies, “...apart from that night we found the meaning of life.” And so begins the listener’s unravelling of puzzles in this enchanting and uncommonly literate song from an equally uncommon minstrel.
The release of ‘Dark Miracles’ is accompanied by a graphically striking, slow motion video, directed by Felix von Nida. It features the stunningly malicious Seulgi Kang and further amplifies the mystery of meaning. In an uncomfortable huis clos, the songwriter placidly submits himself to a series of seemingly abusive acts. We contemplate “These dark miracles/They make me feel spiritual/I write them at night when no one is listening.” Does this private moment of willing submission to a controlling muse bring equal parts pain, darkness, and miraculous creation? Has there been consent or are other forces in control? One wonders to whom the cry “Get on your knees!” is directed; whether the utterance is an attempt at taming the muse, a moment of inner dialogue, or both things at once.
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‘Dark Miracles’ follows the psychedelic-hued single ‘Light Years’ in the gradual unveiling of what will be Saint Leonard’s second album under that moniker, his third in all. The 2016 record Good Luck Everybody, caught the attention of tastemakers at NME, Q Magazine and BBC Radio 6. The prior 2012 DIY release, Out of Work Astronaut, (from the artist formerly known as Kieran Leonard) delivered a collection of semi-acoustic, semi-electric folk-rock gems.
This body of work to date by Saint Leonard reveals talent and intellect steeped in hours of patient and purposeful quest: nose to novel, needle to vinyl, or feet to path on excursions around the world. The latter include immersion in the Los Angeles music scene, solitude in a cabin in Tennessee, sessions chez Stanley Kubrick, touring the UK and Europe in support of artists including Father John Misty, Patti Smith, and Nick Cave and The Bad Seeds, and recent journeys to India and Ithaca.
Add to this whirlwind of discovery an ability to attract highly capable musical accomplices. ‘Dark Miracles’ and Saint Leonard’s forthcoming album are a work in progress at Paul Epworth’s Church Studios, one of the most sought-after production locations on the planet. Saint Leonard’s lineup is an avant-garde supergroup of sorts, boasting the revered indie pedigree of Josh Third from The Horrors on guitar, Panda of TOY on bass, and Steff from Klaxons on drums.
In a mass-market marsh of dance tracks, banal love songs, and baby-baby choruses designed for musical consumption, ‘Dark Miracles’ stands apart, looks askance, and casts a spell. The track meanders into otherworldly, sonically adventurous terrain whilst—perhaps amphibiously—retaining a rock classicism of the canon of songs that have come before and withstood the test of time. It is exquisite craft, quest, memory, experience, vision...and darkly miraculous indeed.