2021 (Oskar Records)
Since its inception in 2008, the Frisian band Leap Day can be counted among the better prog bands in the Netherlands. There is a pleasant upward trend in the quality of their albums on which a mixture of melancholic prog and idiosyncratic neo-prog manages to tickle the melodic taste buds. The result is four studio CDs followed by a live record and a compilation album with archive material. It goes without saying that everyone is eagerly looking forward to a new studio album.
And then bassist Peter Stel leaves the band. Leap Day manages to recruit an adequate replacement: Harry Scholing. The pandemic starts, it is a difficult time for musicians. Singer Jos Harteveld also leaves and the band appoints a new vocalist: Hans Kuypers.
In the studio of keyboardist Derk-Evert Waalkens in Assen, the compositions are further elaborated and recorded separately. ‘Very well’, one would say, but just when Leap Day finally has its act together after a few years of perseverance, inhibition factor three comes into effect. Due to problems with the supply of the necessary raw materials Polish label Oskar is not able to release the album on time.
From my lazy chair I watch and decide to review the album as a digital promo from the computer because it really is a beautiful piece of music. The album goes by the melancholic sounding name “Treehouse”. Be sure that it is a pleasant stay in this tree house.
When listening to the album, I notice that everything sounds much more intense than before. Musically, not too much is different, apart from a few horizon-broadening facets of course. Leap Day still makes prog that is full of the subtle turmoil of the two keyboard players, Gert van Engelenburg and Derk-Evert Waalkens. Wonderful playing on the synthesizer and equally tasty organ and mellotron chords are omnipresent while guitarist Eddie Mulder complements it all beautifully with his characteristic play. His input is so melodic, so sparkling that you could swear his strings are made of gold.
The performances of the three receive excellent support from the rhythm tandem Roozen-Scholing. The drums are dynamic and firm while the bass work is smooth and steady. It all sounds very familiar, but make no mistake. The very last thing I want to suggest is that Leap Day has turned on autopilot on this album.
The big difference lies in the new singer Hans Kuypers. With his somewhat theatrical voice, he is a true game changer. By the way, don’t see the word ‘theatrical’ as something big, Kuypers excels in small gestures. In that respect he is regularly reminiscent of Paul W Nash of the British band Lyrian. It is easy to hear that Kuypers has a past as a hard rock singer. In height he sounds a bit like Damian Wilson or if you like Geoff Tate. He is a special singer who always puts the music in a different light.
The album contains six new songs. “Treehouse” has a very convincing opening with Like Icarus. The song has a poignant text as a backdrop. The band plays a true story about eight homeless people in New Orleans who died in a fire in a warehouse where they tried to spend the night. A driven rhythm and many broken keyboard chords form the basis for the intensely singing Kuypers. The graceful Clementine, on the other hand, shows a much more relaxed atmosphere, although Mulder takes you everywhere with his lush guitar playing.
The third song, Raining, gives me goosebumps time and time again. It has the melancholy of a Big Big Train song but it wouldn’t have looked out of place on Genesis’ “Duke” either. Somehow I see the song as an ode to the tragically deceased Big Big Train singer David Longdon, not that it is but that’s how I experience it. A remarkable passage is halfway through when Mulder gets overly excited and starts to sprinkle with metal riffs. Over the years, Leap Day has given itself a mandate to place such passages in their music. That’s great.
Yet it is the melancholy that gives this album its splendor. Take the For Absent Friends-esque title track in which a funny piece of house music gets a very symphonic twist, or take the almost twelve-minute closing track Autumn, which has a few beautiful Mulderian moments. In between there is also the light-hearted May 5th. The lyrics are about a bicycle ride to a festival that leads past all kinds of obscure places.
Tree houses are not exactly the most solid structures, but this “Treehouse” is nothing less than an architectural masterpiece.
While writing the last sentences of this review, someone told me that a box of CDs is finally being delivered to the band. Pfff.