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‘In Loving Memory,’ the Ever-Experimental Sean Leon Projects Loss and Reminiscence through the Kaleidoscope of Unparalleled Creative Reach

Evan Dale // Dec 13, 2023

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Sean Leon

Nothing feels forced. Everything feels… natural,” Sean Leon signs off with confident melancholia at the tailing snippet from his presumably upcoming short film, House of Leon. Encircling the bold, indefinable artist’s process as a musician and a person – like all of us, perennially immersed in unpredictable evolution – that short film is preluded and accompanied by his newest, most experimentally successful album to date, In Loving Memory. Just days earlier, the Toronto auditory alchemist dropped KING & SUFFERIN – a seven-track, mostly instrumental collection that brims with expected experimental bliss from beginning to end.

But by way of In Loving Memory, nothing could be more experimentally bold; no project construct could bleed with such overarching emotion; no artist is more capable of slicing through a mosaic of meandering musical minutiae.

The project’s bold, semi-cyber chords of its self-titled intro, half-cut with samples and a quick snippet of his own highly edited vocals lift into Ultralight-Beam-reminiscent neo-gospel, before falling gracefully into the album’s true beginning, GRAVITY.

I get high off your memory…

Here, for the next half-hour plus, half-satiated by reminiscent musical motif yet eternally yearning back to the high emotion of its intro through a gauntlet of stylistic shifts, an In Loving Memory listener cascades through Leonian changes of pace and explosions of post-genre gravitas that only its creator – in a modern scene where raw, unapologetic invention feels scarce and rarely authentic – could create while maintaining its north arrow.

The influence of Sean’s brother rings omnipresent in memorium throughout the album. Clips of the two playing on the floor as children backdrop the video streaming shorts on Spotify; dream-cast memories underline most every track; ghostly self-sampled interweavings run through the project from beginning to end; and emotion at a broad scale is projected intensely into every corner of the project. It’s the kind of concept project no one could ever wish on an artist, but one that Sean Leon navigates into a tribute equally as emotionally daunting as it is creatively indefinable beyond even the expectations his artistic vastness has placarded on his work through the last decade.

The things that have long made Sean Leon – the artist – one of the most fiercely unique across the modern soundscape – the illustratively oft-abstract poetics, the at-other-times deadpan lyricism, the vocal rawness and distortions pendulum swinging sans recognizable pattern, the overarching composition with which only the greatest hip-hop and Neo-Soul adjacent post-genre transcendentalists have been able to thoroughly sew signature their projects at length – are as present as ever.

Sean Leon

But magnified by the emotional weight of loss, and the memories that run throughline – yet still maintaining an emotional vantage point not confined to the negative – Sean Leon builds even more artistically grandiose.

His has always been an aesthetic defined equally by indefinable musical experimentation where risks well taken have made him one of the bolder artists of a modern moment, and the emotion spurred in subsequence. Here, with In Loving Memory, all his high-flying anti-genre flexibility and emotionally drenched production reach higher, more emotional in waves.

I air this tape in loving memory…

BLOOD bleeds a certain shade of red, wrung never dry, saturated with blindingly soulful guitar chords, brass, and Sean Leon’s sneaking highs. MEMORIES (REPRISE) with River Tiber – himself a cornerstone of an especially non-conformist musical triad along with Leon and Daniel Caesar (also featured on In Loving Memory’s leading single, THE GLADE) – croons almost intermissionarily as an immersive, downtempo space for sonic contemplation. AQUARIUS sprouts a surprising punch from its bassline, as Leon himself half-sings, half-raps with an instantly recognizable stamp.

I am tired of Earth. These people. I’m tired of being caught in the tangle of their lives…

EQUINOX sings with electrifying synthstrokes, dreamy chimes, and a fond Springness that pulls a listener from the edge of too-contermplative, to a more emotionally content air of calming sonic Sunshine. Broken down by a final verse from Leon himself, In Loving Memory reaches its emotionally lightest peak, before weaving into a beat – delicately entranced with some Spanish guitar – where Jessie Reyez and Sean Leon trade moments of contention and the underlying sting of love at odds with itself.

Each and every track on the project deserves such artful, deeply dissecting breakdown, and yet thrive best when taken at face value as immersive, tantalizing explosions of music none of us have ever really heard before.

The gravitational swings of Sean Leon have long been the stuff of post-genre legend. The producer, songwriter, instrumentalist, rapper, and vocalist is better described as a composer, or more broadly as an artist. And throughout the length of In Loving Memory, it’s all taken to a new level of legitimate creative and emotional gait. There could be no better album to stylistically define an era of indefinable experimentation. There could be no truer tribute to a passed brother whose impact seems perceptibly clear at every moment of the album. There could be no other artist to make it, not only in our modern moment, but quite frankly ever. Projecting the emotion of nostalgia and loss through the kaleidoscope of unparalleled creative reach, In Loving Memory is a timeless masterclass in raw artistic invention, and one that will pave the way for a continued evolution beyond the definable reaches of genre at large.

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