When Nick Leng describes his music, he often refers to color. The indie artist’s gift is an abstract type of synesthesia: a kaleidoscope of emotions manifested into enthralling sounds. “I like dissonance, tension,” he says, “but also, joy and beauty are so important to me.” The most stunning songwriting is at once beguiling and relatable. And Leng’s second album Spirals (out July 22 via SOTA Records) is just that: the untethered sound of Nick Leng falling in love with music again.
“I feel much more in tune with myself,” says the South African born, Los Angeles-based Leng. “In the past, I’ve battled this insecurity making music.” Classically trained as a child, he’s metamorphosed into free-spirited musician who sees opportunities, not boundaries. But he’s also a natural-born perfectionist, which comes with some trappings. “I was stressed and had anxiety. But with Spirals, I reconnected with joy.” His listeners are beneficiaries of this, an artful journey entrenched in the many dualities in life.
Take the title track, “Spirals.” It’s technically a ballad, written during the pandemic as he was falling in love. But it’s also testament to life’s unpredictability, an intoxicating push-and-pull between piano-driven melody and explosions of fantastical, retro theatrics. The song is more about feeling than thinking, a melodic acid trip that beckons you to just let go. “It goes high and low,” Leng says. “It was such a necessary color. But there’s also humor in the end with all the wrong notes and jazz. That’s my personality.”
Spirals, the album, is anchored by a pair of songs examining the everyday human condition. It was written just before, but mostly during, the pandemic—much if it while living in a trailer in LA’s Topanga Canyon, enveloped in nature. The levitating “My Mind Is a Mess in the Morning” is a vulnerable meditation on new beginnings stymied by old baggage. “I’ve had that lyric for a long time. I’d wake up, and there was so much pressure I was putting on myself. Life was weighing me down.” In contrast, the off-kilter banger “Morning/Midnight” is a search for the radiance peeking behind that darkness. “That song started with me chopping up the piano parts, pitching it down, and making this sequence. I did this around midnight,” he recalls. “By the morning, I wrote the melodica part, and it felt like the sun rising.”
As a commentator, Leng is fearless in chasing emotions, candid about wherever they lead him.His last album, LEMONS, was themed around loss—a failed romance, constant itinerancy, the disconsolate reality of friend’s death. And as we learn in Spirals, those demons didn’t simply vanish—the universe is far too complicated, after all—but they did finally dissipate. “There’s a lot of romance in the record,” he says, beaming over the soulmate he met mid-Spiral. “I had these moments of peak love and joy and life. But also, like, that trailer park in Topanga eventually became rat infested…”
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