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Album Review: LÉON – ‘Apart’

‘Apart’, released 30th October, is the Swedish singers’ second studio record, forged earlier this year in a state of isolation. Following a grueling tour schedule that allowed enough distraction to keep the rain of a break-up far enough away, finding herself back within a comfortable four walls forced LÉON to break. And despite what the title suggests, she doesn’t just fall apart; she shatters. But she manages to do so in the most elegant & beautiful of ways.

★★★★★/5

“I lost a friend, and maybe that’s the hardest part” gushes LÉON, on an album wherein she finds herself lost in the corridor of her life, wandering and tugging on door handles of the past; none of which open wide enough to allow escape, or provide enough light for her to find her way out.

With over three and a half million monthly listeners on Spotify, LÉON has curated an impressive niche in the last five years with a sound rich in honey and dripping in heartache. A human-equivalent of the wisteria flower, LÉON’s music echoes the plant’s symbolism of immortality, long life, and wisdom. None of these attributes are forced to correlate with euphoria, though; we soon learn that whilst Apart may sound angelic throughout, this is not an album for the faint of heart.

Opener ‘Head And Heart On Fire’ draws us through the first door and into a world of parallels, the faint, guitar-led production bringing questions of morality. The oldest questions are asked, such as “can love exist without loss?“, and “if something has to end, does that erase the integrity all of the beauty it once showed us?“. It’s choking isolation, harkening to darker days in Stockholm, with just candlelight and the stars for company.

The trend continues right away, as the second track ‘And It Breaks My Heart’ truly sets the tone for the LP. Sonically similar to Adele’s ‘Water Under The Bridge’, we find ourselves just as lost as LÉON begs for answers in the darkness with lines such as “nobody knows where it disappears”. Bringing into question the philosophy of what happens to a love once it has fled from our ribcages, the songstress calls for a rewrite to a play that has long seen its curtains closed, and sits there, on the stage, withering and refusing to move. Where else would she go?

The stand-out of the album is, of course, the anthemic ‘Chasing A Feeling’, first released in August at the end of a cruel summer. “We used to stay up forever just to make every moment last” rings true and cuts oh so deeper for many victims of lockdown romance, in a world where the face of reality, society, and heartache is daily seeing more of a cultural shift than perhaps ever before. It is here where LÉON finds her footing and carves out a legacy that will echo long after she has returned to the stars.

Exploring the intricacies of Fate and Destiny, LÉON tells us the story of how it feels to be a lover who is outstaying their welcome, but frozen in time; because walking away always brings a certain level of defeat, and with defeat comes forth guilt. From birth we are told to believe in the fairy tales and the impossible, to sharpen our minds and our souls, and to fight for what we love. Which makes knowing when to call time all that much harder to see, and even more difficult to accept. Sometimes, it’s easier to take a hammer to the walls and reduce it to rubble than to lock the door quietly, and always wonder ‘what if?’.

The album has its lighter moments, too, and sharply switches focus here and there to show us the other side of the veil, if only for a bittersweet moment or two. ‘Seventeen’, a clear child of post-Stranger-Things pop culture, wistfully sighs and stops the glitterball for “one more dance before you go”, providing prom-night escapism.

‘Crazy/Stupid’ sees LÉON create her own version of Taylor Swift’s ‘Love Story’ and nods to the works of literary greats such as Shakespeare; with no company to fall into, she collapses the gaze inwards and finds flaws within herself. ‘In A Strangers Arms’, as dark as the title suggests, investigates closure… and if it can ever truly be found, or if we’re destined to repeat patterns, always chasing that first feeling. A reflection of the millennial-state-of-mind, she’s spending money, drinking at bars, and going home alone; aren’t we all, sooner or later?

She lashes out, smoking out of spite, and curses learning to live alone, keeping all of the lights on; with no other security, she has to create the illusion of home, a poetic metaphor for how something can appear bright on the surface, but inside be so, so cold and empty. Remember to check in on your loved ones.

Towards the end, we begin to see a gritty, newfound sense of resilience emerge from LÉON. In ‘Who You Lovin’, her tight-fisted grip on our chests loosen a little and she flirts with the demons that, up until now, have been running rings around her. A floating moment of chaos, at least she’s back to trying to open the doors ahead, instead of simply watching the lights behind her go out one by one.

‘Die For You’ is a tightrope between acceptance and defeat, wherein she calls up to the night sky “I don’t wanna want somebody new”. We’d be sad, except, she’s looking up the stars, re-finding her faith and belief in the Universe. “I wanna stay in the clouds” she calls out, more of a gentle ask than a destructive explosion this time.

Title-track and closer ‘Apart’ sees LÉON at her lowest, at her most isolated, too-far gone in a breakdown to ever find hope in recovery. “Don’t expect you to forgive or understand” she calls out into the silence, absolving her role in the story, before asking “what if I don’t know myself without you?”. It’s the dying of a star, the breaking of a heart, the end of a lifetime; because essentially when we experience heartbreak, we have to kill a self we’d grown to accept within us. The most brutal of realities is saying goodbye, not to someone else, but to a you that you loved.

Apart is a world, within itself, a moment in time that will now never be forgotten. It’s visionary, and although a tale of romance through one persons’ lens, manages to awaken heartbreak in a listener as if it were our own. As LÉON wanders, barefoot in a cotton dress down the corridor of her own personal purgatory, we find faith in the fact that one day she will find her way through the door that is meant to open for her.

Jay Hawkridge
Writer

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