We first hear LÉON’s voice 14 seconds into her “Treasure” EP, and it’s glorious. “’I don’t know’ is all you have to say,” she gripes though a thick production, substantiating all the genres by which she defines herself: “indiepop/soul/whatever.” The “Treasure” EP represents an exciting, if challenged, debut from the mysterious new Swedish artist and her producer, Agrin Rahmani.
On the title track, LÉON reminisces, “I was your treasure, treasure, treasure,” her wistful vocals providing depth and attachment to a lyrical simplicity — a generally successful tactic that pervades most of the work. Her voice shines again at the opening of “Tired of Talking,” and again with the pre-chorus. “I’ve been nothing but good to you,” she trills. In these moments, when her voice is given space to breathe, LÉON is unmatchable. She’s an Ellie Goulding with fuller sound, or a less dramatic Adele. On “Leon’s Lullaby,” she’s a dreamy rendition of new soul artists like Leon Bridges. She glows in minimalism.
It’s for this reason that she and her decidedly alt-pop producer feel so mismatched. He’s good — the electronic hook on “Nobody Cares” and the whistle finish on “Tired of Talking,” for example, demonstrate real creativity. But too often, Rahmani treats LÉON as another instrument in a vast digital orchestra of synths and effects, rather than its lead performer. She’s invisible on the chorus of “Nobody Cares,” too compressed on “Lullaby,” and can’t escape an unnecessary high harmony on “Treasure.” To the detriment of them both, Rahmani only ever trusts LÉON’s voice accidentally, or on condition of the next big instrumental bit.
The EP’s strengths occasionally trump this central challenge. “Treasure,” for all its faults, is a stylistically bold adventure into familiar themes of love and intimacy. Under LÉON’s vulnerable vocals, the subtext seems to read, “you’ve never heard anyone say it like this before.” To their credit, Rahmani and LÉON never run out of new ideas to keep a song interesting, and easy lyrics contribute accessibility without sacrificing sophistication. (Just listen to “Tired of Talking.”) There’s a lot to like on “Treasure,” and there’s reason to be excited for the forthcoming LP.
These critiques of “Treasure,” in fact, imply LÉON’s potential. Coupled with a different producer, or a quieter Rahmani, songs like “Lullaby” prove she could be a big soul mover, or, with “Tired of Talking,” an alt-pop queen. But, in trying to be both, LÉON has discovered fundamental frictions between the styles “Treasure” hopes to combine.
Contact Joshua Seawell at jseawell ‘at’ stanford.edu.