Album Review: Nealo – All the Leaves Are Falling – EARMILK

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One of Ireland’s most soulful hip-hop artists, Nealo , delivers on every level with his debut album All the Leaves Are Falling

Nealo has been on the tongues of tastemakers in Ireland for a few years now. The Dublin native who walks dogs for a living and was originally a part of a hardcore rock band, made the transition to the soulful hip-hop sound thanks to inspirations from the likes of Chance The Rapper, Saba and Kendrick Lamar.

Nealo delivered his debut project October Year in 2018 to critical acclaim from fans and critics alike. This in turn led to several sold out headline shows, festival appearances and a chance to open for US heavyweights such as YG and Saba. Following up on this EP, Nealo proceeded to deliver a run of singles any mainstream artist with a conscience would be proud of. Tracks such “Just My Luck” and “Questions” led to him signing with Ireland’s premier urban label Diffusion Lab early in 2020.

This was quickly followed by this album’s lead single, “Angel on My Shoulder,” and the announcement of All the Leaves Are Falling. Following his trajectory, it was no surprise that this album has been subject to incredible hype amongst those in the know when it comes to Irish hip-hop. The only question that remains is: can Nealo stick the landing when it comes to a stellar debut album? 

This album starts with purpose and narrative. The intro is titled “daSilla Interlude” and is an interesting delve into the mindset of many Irish youths growing up on the countless housing estates across the country. Nealo tells a story of him and his adolescent friends walking around their estate and the repetitive nature of life in these places. The mundane feeling of being in a constant loop only to have it broken by buckets of grease at his local Chinese take-away restaurant. The realisation that you are almost trapped unknowingly in this monotonous cycle that it takes something as obsolete as buckets of grease to make you realise what you are missing. This leads to Nealo explaining how him and his friends decided to travel the world in that moment of realisation. Some quintessentially Irish nods toward things likes dial up broadband thrown in for good measure make this the perfect mood setter for the rest of the album. An introspective introduction to our lead protagonist. 

The first real song on this album is titled “Under The Weather (old Obituaries)”. This track sees Nealo explain his point of view on the damage being caused by his surroundings. He discusses topics of suicide rates, housing crises and taxes where he’s from. All of these potent topics are discussed over luscious live drums and spacey electronic keyboards that give this overall dark subject matter a lighter tone and mood. The production is handled by Nealo’s live band, INNRSPACE, who pop up all over the album. His delivery is almost spoken word-like. You can hear the genuine concern in his voice as well as the light hearted recollection to his time travelling the world. In the end, you have little over a minute of potent explanation of the current situation in Dublin.

This track flows seamlessly into the next track titled “Let Your Dreams Collect Dust Until You’re Desperate,” featuring Molly Sterling, Adam Garret and Jehnova. This track explores the feeling of entrapment and isolation in where you live. Both Nealo and Jehnova flow effortlessly over the spacey synths, electronic drums and infectious live bass line. Molly Sterling delivers an absolutely beautiful but subdued hook that ties the whole concept of the record together into a nice bow. Nealo also flexes his singing ability on this one and it adds a whole other layer to his ability as a songwriter. This track is a concept executed to perfection. Important to note the excruciating yelling adlibs delivered by Nealo, an excellent touch from someone who is really in touch with what he wants to portray in his music and has the confidence to deliver it in his way. 

“Xanax” sees Nealo continue down the rabbit hole of entrapment. This track seems to discuss not only his healing from drug use through the birth of his son but also being in the same town as an ex-best friend or muse and seeing them from time to time. He notes the wear that being stuck in the monotony of life in Ireland is showing on this person. The production is handled by Adam Garret and is very in pocket with the rest of the album. Interesting synth licks paired with live drums and a groovy baseline. 

The album’s lead single, “Angel on My Shoulder,” deals with the love/hate relationship with his hometown. This track explains how the city can change you with very little care for your intentions. We also get Nealo’s viewpoint on love and how it leads to growth. Nealo is truly wearing his inspirations on his sleeve on this track. It’s hard to ignore the similarities to Kota The Friend on this track. The whimsical piano, lighthearted hook, dusty drum patterns are all clear nods to the Chicago hip-hop scene. However, Nealo’s content is so inherently Irish it becomes his own by the end. 

“ATLAF Interlude” is a piano ballad that leads into the title track of the album. Nealo croons throughout this short track using Auto-Tune to give a deeper sense of emotion to this track. “All The Leaves Are Falling” is a sombre look at a funeral for a friend. Nealo shows off his pen game on this one but the true highlight comes from the performance of Molly Sterling. The crescendo of this track is by far one of the most mazing pieces of music we have heard come off the island of Ireland. The blend of screaming vocals from Nealo with the soulful delivery of Sterling and the incredible high energy drum performance as it builds towards the release before the final chorus is nothing short of a masterpiece. 

“You Can’t Go Home Again” see’s Nealo link up with Adam Garret and Uly. This track see’s Nealo deliver one of the best chorus’s on this whole album. Nealo reflects on his travels and how he misses home even with its faults. This puts you in the mind set of that famous quote “the grass aint always greener on the other side”. The soulful performance from Uly is beyond breathtaking and really compliments Nealo’s spoken word style on this track. 

The penultimate track is titled “Red Tree Interlude”. Nealo describes his final days of living in Vancouver and how it all ties back to the concept of this album. This comes across a voice note sent to a producer who is working on the album. He explains the pain he felt when he stood on the balcony that he used to smoke on in his apartment building and how it looked out onto this red tree. He recounts how almost overnight in November the leaves all blew off the tree and how symbolic that was to him as he left. Words simply do not do this interlude justice and surprisingly this one of the biggest highlights of a record already filled with them. 

The final track on this album is “You Stole My Soul like a Nine to Five”. This track feels like the end of the story. Nealo touches on every topic that he mentions on previous tracks. It’s a melancholic closer that delves into so many pockets. The climax to this song brings all the best elements out of Nealo with energetic live drums and screaming vocals married with soulful pianos and auto-tune crooning this is truly every signature sound on the album blended together to create the perfect full stop on this sentence. 

Then it ends. Almost as soon as its started, the journey comes full circle. This album is not only a credit to Nealo and every single person who played a part but it is also a credit to the county of Ireland. We have a star on our hands. Nealo has all the ability, talent and presence to truly go on and create more masterpieces like this one. We are extremely excited to see where he goes next. 

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