The Story Behind Every Song On Leon Vynehall’s New Album Rare, Forever
A good mix tells a story, and while Leon Vynehall may have gotten his start as a dance music DJ, he’s always been a storyteller at heart. The British producer’s earlier, more club-focused deep house releases, Music For The Uninvited and Rojus (Designed To Dance), were both loose concept records, inspired by cassette mixtapes made by his mother and the mating rituals of birds of paradise, respectively. And in 2018, Vynehall followed this narrative bent to its logical conclusion with his debut full-length Nothing Is Still, a stunningly beautiful album moving past his dancefloor origins to the concert hall to trace his grandparents’ emigration from London to New York in the 1960s.
If Nothing Is Still felt like a complete left turn for Vynehall, full of sweeping strings that collapsed the difference between experimental electronic music, ambient, field recording, and neo-classical music, then Vynehall’s new album Rare, Forever is more than happy to connect the dots between Vynehall the dance music producer and Vynehall the art music composer. Rare, Forever feels like a summation, synthesis, and evolution of all of Vynehall’s work thus far; bubbling synthscapes rub shoulders with orchestral beauty, smoky jazz passages melding into clubby beats in Vynehall’s impeccably constructed and sound-designed world.
A few coy narrative threads aside, Rare, Forever might not have the rigorous conceptual framework of Vynehall’s other work, but it’s no less transportive. Here, the music itself is the story: a producer and composer at the top of his game, liberated from any artificially imposed constraints, showing us exactly what he can do — throwing all kinds of ideas at the wall and shaping them into a cohesive statement by sheer force of will and talent. These songs feel like living, breathing organisms, almost self-aware, constantly morphing and changing shape and never failing to surprise.
Rare Forever is officially out in the world today. Listen to it as you read Vynehall’s breakdown of the story behind every track on the new album below.
1. “Ecce! Ego!”
The track’s title literally translates from Latin to “Behold! Me!” A fitting introduction to an album about my own psyche, I thought. It starts off where Nothing Is Still left off, but rapidly switches to something more fluid, perhaps even sinister. I kind of think of this song as “Envelopes (Chapter VI)”‘s fucked up cousin.
This is a barrage. A poem spoken by three different voices. They represent those multiple ways we/I talk to our/myself. Spoken over music that goes from abrasive to lush, the poem is a hybrid I wrote which includes words from Portugese writer Fernando Pessoa, Danish Existentialist philosopher Søren Kierkegaard, and my own. These words set up the course of the LP.
Is it strange to feel it?
To lose one’s self
Occurring quietly in the world,
As if it were nothing at all.
A hidden orchestra,
The clash inside yourself,
A symphony at its close.
Those sounds made of velvet,
Whose shade of colour know one knows
Are they pinned?
Are you pinned?
Like a moth.
I wanted this to begin as though it was trying to break free from itself. The muted notes occasionally fluttering free only to be pinned back down — but as the song progresses, the euphoric unfurling of something happens until we’re awash with a feeling or a thought — perhaps an epiphany — before returning to the muted cascade we arrived from, only now with purpose.
4. “Alichae Vella Amor”
A love song pure and simple, for Alice, my partner, who has loved me into being.
5. “Snakeskin ∞ Has-Been”
Following from “Alichae Vella Amor,” the first voice we hear is that of the character “Velvet.”
Velvet pops up in this LP a few times, and I wanted its ambiguity to be alluring. Is Velvet a person, or a thought? Human or metaphor?
“In>Pin” has the line “those sounds made of velvet, whose shade of colour no one knows,” and in context “Velvet” is really something I hear inside of me that I’m trying to locate — but personifying it gives it another dimension. Makes it feel like the search is a conversation.
The song is peppered with the lines “I should be,” “I could,” “I would” — signifying that, even though this is nearer the House & Techno path I have trodden before, I wanted, needed, and should, be approaching it from where I am now as an artist. All the while containing it within the construct and functionality of the genre.
Over and over in a snake’s life it will molt and shed its old, outgrown skin. It does not grow with the size of the snake itself, and soon hinders its advancement, leaving the skin behind like a memory. An artefact of where it once was. I believe good artists do this too. It’s what I try to do with every record.
6. “Worm (& Closer & Closer)”
Throughout “Worm (& Closer & Closer)” a cloaked voice comes in and out of focus speaking the lines “I know that’s me. I’m in here, see.” It conveys the onset that I’m starting to find that sound; the hidden orchestra… Velvet. It wriggles inside of me, like a worm in the dirt ready to be plucked from the earth by its prey.
“Closer to my dream,” “Getting higher and higher,” “I feel it and I keep… taking over me” soar over the top in contrast to the ominous line repeated underneath.
7. “An Exhale”
A relief. A moment of joyful release. This is an optimistic song.
The night that started me on this more profound journey, and what inspired this song’s structure and function, was long and experiential, but it was also joyous. Even though I was aware of this inner disturbance, I was surrounded by people I loved in a beautiful setting. For that I was grateful.
At the end of the experience as I was laying in bed with my eyes shut, my visuals continued for some time as I fell asleep. For a long while I felt as if I were under an ice sheet, invariably unfurling like the geometrics of a kaleidoscope, or the constant of a wave looked up on from the bed of the ocean’s shoreline. I wanted to pair this euphoric mood with sounds like those unfolding images — morphed and transportive.
The most playful song on the record. I wanted to put this on to serve as a reminder that these experiences are simultaneously sage and really fucking fun! I take my work very seriously, but I’m also a lark. “If you know what I mean?” is a bit of a tongue-in-cheek fun-poke at the fact I always do these fairly in-depth pieces. You’ve got to take the piss out of yourself sometimes, haven’t you.
9. “Farewell! Magnus Gabbro”
I remember the morning of the day I wrote this like it was yesterday, but my relocation of the rest of the day is hazy. I know it was a day when my confusion for what I wanted to do was at the forefront of my mind and fairly early on in this process. I wanted to write, but I also wanted to just sit and be with my thoughts. So, out came this; a drone, meditative piece that purged from me. I really sank into it. As I was finishing it, I felt as though I had begun to move this once stoic mental blockage; boulderlike.
Gabbro is a dark rock found in the Cuillin — a mountain range in the Isle Of Skye in the very north of Scotland. I had been there a few days before I wrote this. It’s a spectacular place. The rock is imposing, immovable, and demands attention.
Magnus means great, and this song was a significant part in saying goodbye to that heavy feeling I needed to address. In a way, it’s probably the most honest piece of music I’ve ever written.
10. “All I See Is You, Velvet Brown”
A final gesture. My dialogue with Velvet on this record comes to an end. A slow dance between I and “it.” The album closes with a poem originally written by Will Ritson named “Harbouring.” An admission that even though our conversation ends here, it’s always ongoing. Everything learned must be carried forward.
I would do nothing differently in harbouring my errors.
My small ships.
Those battered vessels that will not sink,
That never set sail.
No longer go out to fish,
But remain bobbing in the water
Like soft words of advice.
Rare, Forever is out now on Ninja Tune.