Sunday, 4 September 2011

Recommended music: 'Gracious Tide, Take Me Home' by Lanterns On The Lake

Time for another review of a record quite far removed from the sort of stuff I normally listen to. I first heard Lanterns On The Lake in March of this year at SXSW. To be honest, I wasn't expecting to like them (an opinion reinforced when I saw the violin on stage) but when they played I was pretty blown away by the power of their music. Now the album has arrived from the Newcastle sextet, and it manages to mix fragile and gentle folk tendencies with flickers and blips of electronica in a really satisfying way.

'Lungs Quicken' is a subtle introduction to the album sung by Hazel Wilde, ethereal but with a ticking electronic backing, while 'If I've Been Unkind' brings Adam Sykes' vocals to the fore on a more straightforward acoustic song that still has loops and swirls in the background. Then 'Keep On Trying' sweeps by, all airy and breathy, followed by 'Ships in the Rain', which sounds like a traditional north-east lament. This is one of a number of tracks that help inform the album's overall themes of the sea and the life that surrounds it.

'A Kingdom' starts to pick up the pace with a driving snare. The violin is quite prominent here, in a way that reminds me of The Waterboys rather than in an overtly folky style. Next, one of the longest tracks on here, 'The Places We Call Home', starts quietly over an electronic rhythm but slowly builds to peaks and then falls back - I remember this one sounding great live as it shimmers and soars. 'Blanket of Leaves' has a dark undertone (I picture it being about someone laying down to die), and soon gives way to 'Tricks'. One of the best tracks on the album, it's atmospheric and moving, with a great drum rhythm and swooping guitars and violins.

'You're Almost There' is a piano-led, dark ballad made for a moody black and white video with cars driving across the desert in Utah, campfires and horses (anyone at Bella Union want me to direct it?). Last but one is 'I Love You, Sleepyhead', with lyrics about being "just in time to save a life", it starts sleepily enough but is another that builds to a crescendo. That just leaves you with 'Not Going Back To The Harbour' to listen to, a brief, fragile acoustic number to close things off.

If you buy the album from Rough Trade Shops you get a 4 track bonus disc with 2 new songs - 'The Watch House And The Daughter' and 'Father's Song', an alternative version of 'Not Going Back To The Harbour' and the Dustin O'Halloran remix of 'Ships In The Rain'.

There are hints of a lot of other bands in the mix here, from Sigur Ros to Mazzy Star, but none of these influences get in the way of the spirit of their music. Much like the Mercury nominated album by King Creosote & Jon Hopkins this record manages to combine different genres to produce something that transcends both. Definitely the best thing that Bella Union have put out this year. And if you like the record make sure you try to catch the band live to experience the full force of their music.

Lanterns On The Lake performing at SXSW in March 2011

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