Record label Exploding in Sound has quickly developed a cult status that reaches far beyond its East Coast location, and it’s the consistent quirk of signees like Leapling that keep these followers devout. The founding philosophy of the label was to give bands the do-it-yourself autonomy to produce the unconventional rock music of their dreams, and the result is a catalogue of grungy releases that are equal parts chaotic and introspective. Though definitely on par with their label-mates, Leapling have always been something of the odd one out in the Exploding in Sound family, the lighter and more art pop-focused younger sibling.
However, Leapling’s time on the label seems to have shaped the sound on sophomore LP Suspended Animation, though it comes in careful balance with the band’s own distinct voice. As most of the groups on Exploding in Sound reside in Boston or Brooklyn, they record and perform in the same orbit, and some musical cross-pollination becomes inevitable. This, along with lineup changes, have allowed for some important growth since last year’s Vacant Page. Leapling is largely the baby of Dan Arnes, and his supporting cast went from a quartet to a trio since that record. The freshly focused sound and new drummer Alejandro Salazar Dyer provide some welcome strength to Suspended Animation.
The intensity of Exploding in Sound’s harder-edged bands is apparent from the start of the album, and opening track “I Decide When it Begins” is full of heavy bass and sharp guitar riffs. The release gets more upbeat from there, but these tracks are equally sharp and the lyrics increase in intensity alongside the musical accompaniment. “Shakin'” demonstrates the band’s balance between noise and nuance through layered instrumentation and clever choices like the use of maracas. While Arnes’ words hover at a permanently soothing pitch, the experimentation shades his voice well.
Suspended Animation is a louder record than their debut, though not without its mellower moments, the orchestral touches standing out. However, a lot of the softer qualities are inflated as well as the grinding highs. On closer “Time Keeps Tickin’”, the guitar and cello sweep and swoon like elevated exit music. As a true counterpoint, though, Leapling up the pop feel in a big way on “One Hit Wonder”. The background harmonies and bright guitar evoke bands of decades past that fell into the pit of the song’s title. The smattering of keyboard here, as well as across the album, adds another interesting color to their palette.
In its collage of grungey indie rock, power pop, and lots of new instrumentation, Leapling have embraced a sense of inconsistency. Suspended Animation requires a bit of patience, digging through the assorted influences and trying to put together an understanding of the album as a whole. But if you put in the time, the album’s writing is strong enough to bring these differences together. As with many other Exploding in Sound artists, Leapling somehow paradoxically both easily recall their peers and successfully step away from the predictability that that should entail.
Essential Tracks: “I Decide When it Begins”, “One Hit Wonder”