A decade into their recording career, England's amiable chamber pop specialists, the Leisure Society, return with their first double album, a deeply personal self-exploration from frontman Nick Hemming, whose breakup with bandmate Helen Whitaker lies at its thematic core. There has always been an earnest sensitivity to Hemming's songwriting which the group then trims in garlands of wistful strings, horns, and woodwinds so that even at their most melancholic, there remains a feeling that hope does indeed spring eternal. Such is the case on Arrivals & Departures, where over two discs, the band serves up themes of regret and dramatic life changes atop puffed clouds of bittersweet melody and orchestral grandeur with occasional stabs of angry lightning. As with all of the Leisure Society's output, there is a good deal of thought put into these tightly crafted songs and while tonally, their inter-band drama may sound more like a storm in a teacup, the subtlety of Hemming's pain lies in the many layers contained within. Take the title cut, for example, where a sad but stately waltz is briefly interrupted by a sudden fuzz-laden bridge whose simmering anguish boils over in tiny discordant notes and anxious effects without straying from its major-key refrain. While the more obvious references to the transient nature of relationships explain themselves outright, it's the grace notes and musical subtexts that make Arrivals & Departures an interesting listen. The eerie, glistening backdrop of the remorseful "I'll Pay for It Now" and the distant, distorted hums threading in and out of tracks like "Let Me Bring You Down" and "Leave Me to Sleep" accent the more forthright melodies in enchanting ways. At his core, Hemming is a classic popsmith with an innately optimistic compass, and throughout these 16 tracks, he still manages to transmute his troubles into several rousing, even exultant crescendos and hooks that celebrate the journey more than the arrivals and departures.
AllMusic Review by Timothy Monger
Track Listing - Disc 1
Track Listing - Disc 2