When ‘Villains’, the first single from this album was released, I was quick to cover it because it was outstanding song. While singles aren’t always representative of albums, they can certainly whet the appetite, as they did in this case, given Leece’s skill and subtlety as a singer and songwriter.
No Wonder the World is Exhausted certainly lives up to the promise of ‘Villains’ and also declares that Leece is an artist who should be in the conversation, in country music terms, with the Troy Cassar-Daley/Don Walker songwriting combination, Shane Nicholson (the album’s producer) and Fanny Lumsden, who is one of the most versatile artists working today. He also fits neatly alongside Brad Butcher, whose musical style is quite different, although both artists are adept at crisp articulation of heavy emotions and experiences. But those are comparisons, not necessarily influences – although one might imagine that Nicholson has left an imprint.
Only Leece can know what his musical lineage is but there is one element that stands out quite clearly, at least to these ears, and that is Australian Crawl. Leece has a certain vocal similarity to James Reyne, albeit he’s easier to understand … as Reyne has become with time. But that’s not the main reason: rather, it’s that Leece’s album creates a portrait of Australian life that is the same swirl of ups, downs, quietude and activity, with a sense of place and character, that Australian Crawl were so good at producing. This is not to say that No Wonder the World is Exhausted sounds like an Australian Crawl album, because it does not. But it puts Leece in that particular, strong lineage of Australian storytelling in song.
At the same time, Leece is his own man. He has a distinctive, almost mesmerising singing style, and if ‘Villains’ was indicative of the quality of work on the album, it was not of the musical styles, which range through rock and several shades of country. At the core of each song is the story Leece is telling. There could be a song that is just Leece and a guitar, like the album’s closing track, ‘Stuck to My Guns’, yet there are many layers to it. That’s usually the sign that a song has taken a while to come to maturity, either because the songwriter has been carrying it around for a while before recording it or because they’ve refined it over time. It’s had time to find out what it is, and that sense of ripeness, for lack of a better word, offers the listener something deeply satisfying.
In short: ‘Villains’ wasn’t a one-off, Leece has produced an extraordinary album, and if you take your music seriously, you’ll take him seriously.
No Wonder the World is Exhaused is out now through Stanley Records.