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Album Review

Having made a lovely splash with their debut The Beauty of the Empty Vessel, the Occasional Keepers return with True North, showing that what might have initially seemed like a one-off now appears to be a regular concern. With an unchanged lineup from before — Bobby Wratten, Caesar and Carolyn Allen, plus Beth Arzy on guest vocals and Ian Catt handling all production and engineering — the trio's ten songs on True North follow pretty directly in the vein of the debut. It's a bit simplistic to say that any indie pop/Sarah Records freak will automatically love this album, perhaps, but it's a bit hard to hear how they couldn't; if all participants involved aren't going to produce anything surprising at this stage of the game, there's an elegant, perfect detail to the whole album that makes it a straightforward continuation of where they've been. Opening track "If the Ravens Leave," perhaps referring to the legend about said birds who live in the Tower of London, sets the tone of understated and contemplative melodies and speak-singing, and from there it's a basic but beautifully effective formula of soft but precise beats, calm electric guitars, and background textures supporting everything else. What ultimately makes all this work so well, though, is the way that tension is used — the sense of everything winding itself up to a breaking point on "The Cricket Laced Midnight," or Arzy's calm but still slightly forlorn sounding vocal turn on "The Life of the Fields," a folky confection that works surprisingly well. Two of the most intriguing efforts: the stately drone hooks of "Town of 85 Lights," which could almost be a tribute to Sonic Boom's style on the Spectrum album, and "Factory Records," presumably a tribute to the legendary label as well as its deceased founder Tony Wilson, but done as an instrumental rather than a retrospective story, Caesar's melodica providing an elegiac air for the stately piece.

True North, The Occasional Keepers
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