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  • Writer's pictureMcKinzie Smith

REVIEW: LÉON’s sophomore record delivers more gorgeous vocals, but doesn’t quite exceed expectations

Updated: Nov 2, 2020

LÉON’s chill, confessional tracks have been an indie-pop staple for half a decade now. After “Tired of Talking” became a huge hit in 2015, a handful of EPs and an album followed, garnering her millions of streams and a number of high-profile festival slots. With her latest record, Apart, LÉON aims to slow things down a bit and show another side of herself. Apart was written in the wake of a major breakup that left her “alone for the first time.”

“I had to really look within myself and see all these flaws,” she says. “It was a reality check on myself and my own behavior.”

Sonically, Apart isn’t much different from her self-titled 2019 record. The lyrical content is, however, clearly meaningful to LÉON. In the opening track, single “Head and Heart on Fire,” her voice wavers with the regret of a love lost. The song contains elements of folk, pop, and balladry; the essentials of Apart. It’s a strong statement to start the record off with, immediately drawing you into the story of this crumbling romance.

An important thing to note about the record, and perhaps its strongest element, is that it takes you chronologically through every step of the break-up. However, like any break-up, there are highs and lows. The second track “And It Breaks My Heart” is a disappointment after the golden warmth of “Head and Heart.” A more straightforward pop track, the production is just a bit too clean to fully convey the desperation of the lyrics. Though it’s nice to see LÉON experiment with new sounds, it can sometimes work against her, washing her of what makes her unique.

Things do pick up again with “Crazy/Stupid,” a track reminiscent of (stay with me here) the soundtrack to the underwater level of Super Mario 64. I mean this in a good way; the track is luxuriously chill, with entrancing synth tones and a catchy chorus. Perhaps the most relatable track on the record, LÉON admits fault in the relationship for never being able to make promises that she can keep. It would be a great choice for a single later down the line.

The middle section of the record falls victim to the polish of “And It Breaks My Heart.” Both “In a Stranger’s Arms” and “Chasing a Feeling,” though stylistically different, are indistinct from bland radio pop. It’s a shame, because “In a Stranger’s Arms” has some hard-hitting lyrics about life after a breakup. With less gloss, it could’ve been a sweet acoustic ballad. “Chasing a Feeling” features some of her best vocals on the record, but doesn’t really go anywhere as it relies on faux-EDM build-up techniques that never actually drop. From “Falling Apart” on, this overproduction is less of an issue, but it shouldn’t have been one at all. LÉON’s voice is strong enough to carry her songs without boring top 40 production, as “Falling Apart” proves. A minimal piano track, it manages to be more emotionally compelling than the two tracks that precede it, leaving the heavy lifting to LÉON’s vocals.

From here on, the record actually gets much stronger. “Who You Lovin’” totally belongs in an advertisement for an action film and is probably the most fun song on the record. It sees LÉON explore a more country-influenced sound and it really works with her raspy tone. “Seventeen,” ironically based on the title, reminds me a bit of Stevie Nicks. With its 80’s-inspired synths under a folksy melody, it would fit right in on a Nicks solo project. The run of songs from “Who You Lovin’” to the final track “Apart” is by far the strongest of the entire album. It’s a shame some of these weren’t moved up to the top, as they show LÉON’s willingness to experiment with sounds that are a bit funkier than ballads or top 40 pop. If her next project was more like “Seventeen,” I’d certainly be tuning in.

Though by “Die For You” things start to blend a bit, these final tracks provide a nice wrap-up to the thematic content of the record. They portray a woman starting to move forward with her life, even if it means she’ll have to go it alone. For those going through a breakup, Apart hits all the major stages of grief. LÉON’s vulnerability has always been her strong suit and this record is no different. Even if Apart has a number of forgettable tracks, it displays a different LÉON than we’ve seen up to this point. She’s finding a new sound for herself as she settles into a new phase of her life. It doesn’t always feel like her, but that’s alright. This feels like a transitional point for LÉON and it has me excited to see what she’ll do next.

McKinzie Smith is a former film student from Portland, OR. In her adolescence, she followed Fall Out Boy up and down the West Coast. She now considers herself very cool and normal and only a little bit emo. She now spends most of her time listening to Charli XCX in her kitchen and writing articles about things she likes. 

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