Having released a fascinating if rambling set of experimental pop called Bowler Hat Soup for his debut at age 18, Kiran Leonard follows up a little over two years later with even more challenging, impulsive-sounding indie rock on Grapefruit. While the debut claimed over 20 instruments in rotation, all played by its creator, here Leonard shares the workload with several guests, including a traditional string quartet, though there's little conventional about the performances or the songs. To drive that point home, the musician introduced the album with the 16-minute lead single "Pink Fruit," a meandering but instinctively dramatic epic that moves through segments of garage rock, woodwind-embellished chamber pop, and multiple flavors of classic art rock, at times dotted with spoken word samples. It's all delivered with a loose, reckless feel. A moody cross between, say, Of Montreal, Dirty Projectors (a noted influence), and Richard Hell, Grapefruit is -- title aside -- full of vim and audacity. The more standard-length "Caiaphas in Fetters," whose title is likely a reference to comments a mentally unstable Friedrich Nietzsche made in letters while he was dying from pneumonia, is an acoustic guitar-and-strings chamber piece underneath Leonard's volatile, intentionally imperfect vocals. In contrast, "Öndör Gongor" is nearly eight minutes of shape-shifting math rock. By the time he gets to the next to last track, the acoustic-guitar folk ballad "Half-Ruined Already," anticipation alone makes it feel dangerous. While the overcast love song, which was inspired by a Werner Herzog short about a former leper colony, never morphs into anything else, the vocal performance keeps us on edge and guarantees no passive listening. The album closes with "Fireplace," a cacophonous lounge tune that challenges until the piano stool-dislodging end. Through it all, Leonard maintains an intangible charisma that, along with sustained vulnerability and a knack for keeping the familiar in play while distorting it, has the potential to enthrall.
AllMusic Review by Marcy Donelson