Brimming with light, love, and stirring self-reflection, Alex Lleo’s beautiful, achingly visceral ‘Morning Heights’ EP is a long-awaited rush of raw emotions, moving sentiments, and smoldering sounds – a record of endless wonder and possibility.
Stream: “4:05” – Alex Lleo
Most of my favourite songs often offer a place of reflection: A soundscape that allows your mind to drift in and out of thought. If any of these sounds offer any kind of refuge, then they’ve done their job.
Brimming with light, love, and stirring self-reflection, Alex Lleo’s beautiful new EP is a long-awaited rush of raw emotions, moving sentiments, and smoldering sounds. As tender and soothing as it is radiant and resounding, the achingly visceral Morning Heights EP captivates and inspires, finding Lleo in his element and making music that warms the heart while stirring the soul.
Face the white water, just take it on the chin
Choose your battles, some you’ll never win
But hiding out don’t ever work
Spin your mind till you confirm
All of those fears, from childhood to now
Don’t you know,
To be a man, takes more than guts these days
– “White Water,” Alex Lleo
Following a slew of special song releases over the past year (including “4:05,” “White Water,” and more), Alex Lleo’s Morning Heights EP finds the longtime Atwood artist-to-watch dwelling in the depths of reflection and reverie. Released July 2nd via Brooklyn-based indie label Baby Woman Records, Morning Heights captures personal growth in motion as Lleo weaves listeners through an enchanting soundtrack to inner reckoning and vulnerability. His six songs embark on a loose journey into the self as he explores the risk-taking, lingering on the past and learning to let go, being true to who you are while putting yourself out there, confronting toxic masculinity and other internal and external pressures, and more.
“Singer/songwriter Alex Lleo is an anomaly for all the right reasons,” we wrote in our review of Lleo’s debut single back in 2018. “First of all, he’s unafraid of sharing his full, authentic and flawed self. Secondly, he’s not after “pop polish”; he likes his music perfectly imperfect. His musical journey is only just beginning, but it’s already clear that Alex Lleo is poised for great things.” Rich and earthy, with warm harmonies and a layered horn section supporting his own expressive vocals, “Bedroom Door” proved a breathtaking start for Lleo, who (as we have learned) never shies away from sharing his authentic self in song. His latest EP is his most intimate and organic offering yet – delving into personal depths with majestic elegance and stirring fragility.
In our 2020 premiere of the EP’s lead single “4:05,” Lleo detailed the story behind the Morning Heights EP and its songs – of how he connected with Quinn Devlin over social media, and wound up flying out to Brooklyn in September 2019 to record at Dodge 112 studios with producer Sahil Ansari and others. “Overall I was in Brooklyn for little over a month,” he explained. “I got to experience my first real Halloween, discovered the wonders of Trader Joe’s, and made some truly incredible friends. Being surrounded by countless talented and good natured people has really given me a fresh perspective, and I think that honesty and kinship comes across in these recordings… I feel like I’ve found my musical home out in New York.”
Lleo slowly teased out Morning Heights’ songs over the past twelve months, beginning with the soulful groove “4:05” – an uplifting song full of dynamic textures and sweet rhythms that ignite a flame deep inside. He followed up with “Easy Way,” a heated jam full of communal energy, instrumental warmth, and understated nuance – a “drop of sun-kissed honey ready to sweeten up even our darkest day,” as we wrote upon its release. The driving track “Starve” closed out 2020, and Lleo then returned this spring with the breathtaking “White Water” and poignant, nostalgic “Old Walk.”
All of this is to say that Morning Heights is a long time coming, and its arrival is both a refreshing culmination as well as an exciting, cathartic new beginning.
“Most of the songs from this EP come with a heavy dose of self reflection I think,” Lleo tells Atwood Magazine. “Shortly before the opportunity to record out in Brooklyn, I was feeling in a bit of a rut, both creatively and in life. It felt like everything was evolving around me and somehow I’d been stuck behind. So it was crazy to think a friendly Instagram message from NY musician Quinn Devlin, resulted in a crazy journey to Brooklyn to make these sounds a reality. It felt very risky at the time, but it was exactly the kind of shock to the system I think the songs and I needed! I had a pretty clear vision going in terms of parts and lineup, but everything was definitely enhanced by everyones professionalism in the studio. Sahil Ansari’s production work and Quinn’s arrangement suggestions really tightened the bolts on everything.”
The record’s songs resonate with a kind of unspoken hope, endless wonder, and possibility. As Lleo explains, these freeing sensations ultimately gave the EP gets its name.
“It was a couple days until I was due to leave Brooklyn,” he recalls. “I was staying in Bushwick and we’d been out to a friend’s show until the early hours. I remember Leif Vollebekk’s new album had just dropped, and I have this really vivid memory as that autumn sun was rising, walking down a sleepy Wyckoff Ave listening to ‘New Ways’ and just reflecting on what the last month had brought me. In that moment I felt like anything was possible, and with the day breaking on my final morning, I just thought the phrase summed up how I’d felt.”
With the way we went about recording these songs, I feel it allows the fundamental elements of how I perform live to come through uninterrupted, whilst the surrounding arrangements ebb and flow, giving quite an honest representation of sound I think.
From start to finish – from “White Water” to the charming outpouring “Calibrate” – Morning Heights soars high and shines bright. Lleo effortlessly blends his natural acoustic work with grander, more expansive instrumental arrangements – all of which helps bring his songs to life with increased emotional magnitude and sheer musical impact. Meanwhile, his lyrics are catchy, meaningful, and searingly expressive. He cites the opening song’s line, “To be a man, takes more than guts these days,” as one of his personal favorites – “I think it offers a lot of interpretation, but to me it’s a reminder not to feel the pressure of stereotypes” – but the truth is that this entire record contains a deep heat and movement that is unique to its place in time – a relaxing, expressive, instantly memorable experience unto itself.
“I think the whole journey really allowed for some personal growth during this time. It’s been so humbling to make sure beautiful friends through the medium of music. Personal highlights for me, though, has to be those famous NY bodega sandwiches – man, do I miss chomping those!” Lleo laughs. For him, this is an EP of connection, new friendships, fond memories, and defining moments, just as it is one of self-expression and vulnerable release.
“Most of my favourite songs often offer a place of reflection: A soundscape that allows your mind to drift in and out of thought,” Lleo shares. “If any of these sounds offer any kind of refuge, then they’ve done their job.”
Listen to the full record via our below stream, and peek inside Alex Lleo’s Morning Heights with Atwood Magazine as he goes track-by-track through the music and lyrics of his EP! Morning Heights is out now independently, and available on vinyl via Baby Woman Records.
Stream: ‘Morning Heights’ – Alex Lleo
:: Inside Morning Heights ::
“A song inspired after a crazy episode surfing off the coast of Ireland. After the humbling experience of being thrown around in conditions I probably should have swerved that day, once back on the beach I began to reflect on the fragility of life and the situations we sometimes put ourselves in.”
“ Written whilst waiting for a ‘4:05’ train that was going to take me south and away from my hometown for a while. I remember feeling pretty lost around this time, I’d been focusing a lot on the passing of time, brought on I think by the deterioration of my grandparents. I was carrying a lot of guilt for stupid decisions I’d made with relationships and my music, I knew I was putting a lot of unnecessary pressure on myself when compared to the grand scheme of life. I knew I had to clear my mind and refocus on the present. So I took a trip to the country, had some ice cream, swam in the sea, it was just what I needed! Haha”
“Inspired by a conversation with my dad shortly before leaving for New York. I was really nervous about whether this whole trip would even work out. I hadn’t met any of the band, and I wasn’t feeling super sure about what I wanted to create. He began to tell me about the importance of leaning into opportunities when they arise. I knew I’d regret things more if I let doubt rule the show. So its a song about leaning into the things that make you feel uncomfortable really”
“Never really see myself as someone qualified to sing a politically motivated song! Haha, but in essence, this track is about the dangers of passing the book and shying away from responsibility. It’s a call to any leader out there that wants to rule with love and compassion- those people few and far between that are strong enough to stand up and accept responsibility when things are good, but more importantly when mistakes are made. (It’s about as Billy Bragg as I’ll get ahah)
“A reminiscent song about a place in my old hometown. There’s an old cobbled footpath beneath the city’s cathedral that leads down to the river. It’s the kind of place that’s perfect for walks with a first date. I remember going back and walking around not so long ago, and thinking about all the friends and footsteps that have passed over those stones. The lives people have gone on to live, and how everything accept those cobbles has changed. Good times!”
“A question to myself really. Pieces to the puzzle of my own life I know I’m yet to find. Experimental love, spirituality, and the countless unanswered questions as to why we’re even here at all! But amongst all of that, it’s about trying to find people you can calibrate your time with. People who see the world for all it has to offer, and experiencing this crazy journey together. It’s why I wanted so many parts on the outro. I wanted all those people in the room with me, so we could send it together!”
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? © Ally Rincón
:: Stream Alex Lleo ::