28. I Am Kloot–‘Sky At Night’

Best of 2010Some records don’t transfer well between seasons but, as I sit looking out at three foot long icicles and a seemingly permanent snow covering, ‘Sky At Night’ still sounds as imperious as it did upon arrival at a balmy holiday cottage in July. The best melancholic albums have the capacity to mould themselves to whatever mood the listener happens to be in. Happy? No problem, admire the swooning majesty of the arrangements. Sad? Wallow aplenty in those aching vocals. When I first wrote about this record for ‘A Week With’, I was merrily lavishing praise all over these songs and, it would seem, it was all entirely deserved. ‘To The Brink’ remains one of the most perfectly realised tracks of 2010 – majestically sung, beautifully textured and produced with due care and diligence. Plus, “do you fancy a drink? I know a place called the brink” remains a splendid way to start a song.

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An entirely just Mercury nominee, ‘Sky At Night’ is I Am Kloot’s masterwork to date, and I add that ‘to date’ quite intentionally. One of the better kept secrets of the northern indie scene, quietly selling in small numbers to people with discerning ears, the band have a catalogue well worth exploring. Debut ‘Natural History’ might well be the most sensible port of call for those looking for their next fix, produced as it was by Guy Garvey, co-producer of this latest outing along with fellow Elbow sort Craig Potter. Be prepared for a slight step down in sonic splendour, mind you. Kloot have come a long way and this is never more obvious than on the grandiose ‘Lately’, which you can obtain for nowt by going here. A deliciously epic wall of strings is deployed sparingly but to great effect, while band frontman John Bramwell’s impassioned rasp rises to the occasion. If you like your Hawley, Villagers or, of course, Elbow, then I fail to see how you could be anything other deeply moved by this.

Chuck in the masterful singles – ‘Northern Skies’ and the re-born ‘Proof’ – and you should already have enough reasons to be in possession. But should you still need convincing, not that I can really understand how the final thirty seconds or so of ‘Proof’ wouldn’t melt your icy bastard heart if so, then ‘It’s Just The Night’ should do it. I previously described it as “a ludicrously indulgent cross between Richard Hawley, Leonard Cohen and Bob Dylan” and I’m not sure I can put it any better some five months later. Luscious but not saccharine, elegant but not too earnest and resonant in a way which makes me feel like its passing through me, this is the quiet calling card of a terrific talent.

And I still haven’t mentioned Kloot’s ‘One Day Like This’, ‘Radiation’, which is as close to gratuitously big as the album gets. It’s still lovely, mind you. For whatever reason, there aren’t all that many conventional guitar bands in this year’s list. It would seem that a sense of fatigue kicked in this year, with the phrase ‘landfill indie’ becoming almost as ubiquitous as the music it was claiming to describe, but when it was really very good indeed, it stood out from the crowd. Such was the case with ‘Sky At Night’, and here’s hoping the band’s renewed commercial standing can endure.

A Week With… 19. I Am Kloot – Sky At Night

Oh, the aching sound of melancholy. Some voices just have it. Think Nick Drake, Jason Molina and Morrissey. To that list, let’s add John Bramwell, I Am Kloot’s songwriter and vocalist, who has found his form in the nick of time. Have drifted a little with ‘Gods And Monsters’ and ‘I Am Kloot Play Moolah Rouge’, good albums but lacking somehow, ‘Sky At Night’ is the exemplar record for this band. It’s the one you’d give to others to show why you liked them, it’s the one you’ll end up reaching for first from the shelf or scrolling to on the iPod. It’s accomplished, it’s precise and it sounds beautiful.

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While Bramwell’s voice is imbued with that melancholic charm, be careful not to write this lot of as miserablists. In a recent review, the frequently sniffy and awkward Andy Gill, suggested in The Independent that the pace of this record “rarely rises above funereal” which is, at best, disingenuous and, at worst, a plain lie, suggesting no great deal of time was spent with ‘Sky At Night’. Yup, some of these songs are slow but they are luxurious, meticulous and engrossing rather than sombre and plodding as that description might suggest.

Opening track and current single, ‘Northern Skies’, is perhaps not as magical as its near namesake, but it’s a clear sign that the wilderness years are over. Bramwell has always had a way with words and, following on from the charming “Where shall we go on that big black night? Shall we take the coast road back through our life?” in ‘Northern Skies’, we are given the cracking opening couplet of “Do you fancy a drink? I know a place called the brink” for second track ‘To The Brink’. The truly heartbreaking strings that follow underscore the tone of world-weary despair and it’s an enjoyably brave decision to deploy this quite magnificent song so early on.

There is a not un-Elbow like swell of unsettling and tense backing vocals during ‘Fingerprints’, further demonstrating that not a note will be wasted on ‘Sky At Night’. The whole record exudes a sense of being ‘just so’, a confidence borne of knowing you’ve made the best record of your career, both in terms of the songs themselves and the beguiling sonics. This is, in no small part down to Elbow’s Guy Garvey and Craig Potter, the man responsible for the sublime production of ‘The Seldom Seen Kid’, who both oversaw proceedings. ‘Lately’ is another accomplished gear-shifting piece, lurching between serene calm and all out theatrics, while ‘The Moon Is A Blind Eye’ is a fine example of a relatively sparse soundscape being slowly manipulated to great effect, angelic harmonies sweeping in accompanied by echoing drum rolls towards the song’s end. ‘It’s Just The Night’ is one of their very finest songs, sounding like a ludicrously indulgent cross between Richard Hawley, Leonard Cohen and Bob Dylan. You’ll need to play it a few times just to absorb its majesty. The swoonsome gloss of ‘Coles Corner’ perfectly suits Bramwell’s languid yet emotive croon, its slow, raggedy delivery hinting at ‘Time Out Of Mind’ and ‘Love And Theft’ era Bobness.

2003 track ‘Proof’ makes a reappearance in a move that has confused a few people and, as part of an album of only ten tracks, it does seem a little cheeky although this new rendering sounds sublime. Furthermore, if this is to be the album which sells people on the band, offering a creative re-birth, then there’s no harm in having one of their best songs on it. But, tellingly, on this occasion it doesn’t stand out as a peak. Their game has been raised, their sound has been found and I Am Kloot are now playing for the win. It’s bloody heartening for those who were ensnared back in the days of 2001’s ‘Natural History’. I remember reviewing ‘B’, their outtakes and extra tracks collection from last year, and wondering what the hell was going on. Momentum having ebbed substantially with ‘Moolah Rouge’, I just couldn’t see how foisting odds and sods into the public arena made much sense. On reflection, it seems to have been a clearing of the decks, an end of a chapter and a metaphorical funeral for the old times. Momentum had faded, but it would seem it was only temporary.

Radiation’ seems to build towards an epic, Sixties-sounding conclusion but, rather cleverly, it hasn’t been sequenced at the end of the record, even if there is a not inconsiderable pause before ‘Same Shoes’, the actual closing track, shimmers into life. With wistful brass and a muted drum sound it’s a perfect way to end ‘Sky At Night’. It’s delicately crafted, beautifully sung and leaves you wanting more. This album may not suddenly elevate I Am Kloot to headline status but it’s a mission statement that deserves to be heard, a proud, defiant blast against general indifference and Bramwell’s best work to date.

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