Released in 2017, Kiran Leonard's third LP, Derevaun Seraun, was inspired by specific literary works and arranged for piano and string trio. Following it by only a year, Western Culture sees Leonard return to both an impulsive indie rock and to the here and now. Also a marked contrast to his 2013 debut, Bowler Hat Soup, which had a teenaged Leonard covering and recording over 20 instruments himself, his fourth album is his first to be tracked in a professional studio and with his live backing band. A touch less chaotic but still refreshingly free-spirited with his band in tow, the album opens with the theatrical "The Universe Out There Knows No Smile" (presumably a reference to Werner Herzog's "Minnesota Declaration" on the notion of truth in documentaries). Its melodic, heavily strummed jangle is close to a structured rock song but with its share of meandering chord progressions, jammy repetition, and outbursts. Later on, the poignant, restrained "Working People" relies on folk-styled guitar picking to accompany lyrics that include the real-life story of a British ex-soldier who died from lack of insulin after having his benefits cut. Leonard's high-contrast, earnest exploration of society continues throughout the record; the penultimate track, "Exactitude and Science," is a piano-based entry that opens with the lyrics "Last night, I went to a lecture by two human right lawyers." With a playing time of over eight minutes, the episodic "Legacy of Neglect" is the album's centerpiece. It opens with melodic folk-rock, then travels through time signature-shifting punk, ambient noise, acoustic singer/songwriter fare, and orchestral rock, all the while remaining as engaging as a suspense film. Although not for the casual music listener, the song and the album work not only because of Leonard's good melodic and dramatic instincts, but because he is equally charismatic with both quiet acoustic song and outraged, off-balance rock. In this way, the album's riveting album rock-slash-exasperated art rock is reminiscent of figures like Bowie and Reed while remaining completely idiosyncratic.
AllMusic Review by Marcy Donelson