BEST OF 2012: 25. Richard Hawley – Standing At The Sky’s Edge

After the spacious soundscapes of 2009′s ‘Truelove’s Gutter‘, the Sheffield-drenched psychedelia found here may surprise but, thirty years from now, crate diggers of the world will seize upon this album in rapture. Speaking to older colleagues about Hawley, they have expressed some dismay about the direction taken on this album. Having previously been drawn in by his truly beautiful voice, they’ve been a little put off by the increase in volume and the shift in sound. This perhaps captures perfectly why this album sounds the way it does. Having taken his 21st century crooner thing as far as it could go, Hawley wanted to reboot, reinvigorate and return to the guitar wielding heroics of his past.

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Let’s be clear, ‘Standing At The Sky’s Edge’ is not a heavy rock record and would only make Mumford fans jump a little gingerly. ‘She Brings The Sunlight’ is a stellar statement of intent, slowly building to a euphoric squall of droning guitars and sugary harmonies, while ‘Down In The Woods‘ buries an echoey vocal at the heart of a bluesy rattle. Even when ‘Don’t Stare At The Sun’ initially evokes memories of tunes gone by, upon reaching the three-minute mark it soars in muscular fashion, the easy emotive colouring of strings left untouched. ‘Seek It‘ is a curious beast, having received comparisons with Badly Drawn Boy‘s ‘About A Boy‘ soundtrack from some corners, but it’s coquettish delivery is utterly charming. It sounds unlike anything else Hawley has done, if not unlike anything Damon Gough has done.

An album for long summer nights and glistening wintery days, these nine songs sit together perfectly; a luscious suite delivered by a man who has already more than delivered and can now afford to do whatever he likes. Several deaths, both family and friend, spurred Hawley on, with much talk of wanting to pick up an electric guitar and just make some noise. With his ear for melody, it was never going to be a raggedy garage rock record – see Peter Buck‘s solo effort for that – and the joyous clatter of ‘Leave Your Body Behind You’ underlines that even when the guitars take off, the beautiful tunes of old are still along for the ride.

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