On the follow-up to their 2013 LP, Alone Aboard the Ark, British folk-pop group the Leisure Society contemplate survival and perseverance with a loosely themed collection called The Fine Art of Hanging On. During the writing and recording of the album, a close friend of frontman Nick Hemming's was waging a losing battle with cancer, and all through the band's creative process, these recurring ideas of hanging on and grasping kept reappearing in Hemming's lyrics, resulting in what he has referred to as an "accidental concept album." Hemming is no stranger to melancholic themes, but the overall sunny nature of the Leisure Society's previous output feels especially counterbalanced here by the weight of desperation and difficulty. Musically, the band is as affable as ever, layering these well-crafted songs with the clever Baroque pop arrangements and unique embellishments they've become known for. Still, for as tidily orchestrated as they are, songs like "Tall Black Cabins," which tells the story of a hopeless fishing crew, and the lonely waltz "All Is Now" are powerful and soulful, with a wistful grandeur that supports their subjects. The rhythmic, hooky "Outside In" is another standout with a maudlin streak running through its pop core. "Nothing Like This" is a breezy indie pop confection with a slight Latin flair, and "I'm a Setting Sun" rocks gently with a hopeful and harmonic richness. Still, there is already an overwhelming politeness to most of the Leisure Society's songs and arrangements, and the tight, almost constricting production style here ensures that any sharp edge or rogue tone has been dealt with. As they navigate these darker emotional waters, it's hard not to wonder what Hemming and his crew would sound like if they loosened their collars just a bit.
AllMusic Review by Timothy Monger