(Shepherd Moon / EMI)
Manchester three-piece I Am Kloot have spent almost ten years swinging wildly between sounds. Debut album Natural History brought Jonny Bramwell’s distinctively Northern English songs beyond the masses of his hometown and continued the social commentary and wit of his solo album You, Me and the Alarm Clock, released under the pseudonym of Johnny Dangerously. Although Natural History spawned songs that are now staples of the band’s live shows, the album was too quiet, too basic in scope and lacked any element of surprise. The follow- up, I Am Kloot, found the band over– asserting their appetite for crashing rock songs, while Gods and Monsters were the sound of musicians bleeding the life out of their songs in the studio. On I Am Kloot Play Moolah Rouge, the band hit a groove. Recorded live in their Stockport studio, it was a band capturing the feel of their songs and creating an overarching mood throughout the record.
Throughout Sky at Night – produced by Guy Garvey and Craig Potter of Elbow – Bramwell makes a strong case for his being one of Britain’s greatest living songwriters. Clearly, his closest contemporaries are Shack’s Michael Head and Sheffield troubadour Richard Hawley, both of whom are recalled on opener ‘Northern Skies’ and ‘To the Brink’, respectively. ‘Northern Skies’ is a rambling, travelling folk song, strongly reminiscent of Here’s Tom with the Weather / Corner of Miles and Gil– era Shack. Its finger- picked folk, restless drums and lush strings move the album along in the direction of a fine folk- rock record.
However, ‘To the Brink’ weighs down the euphoric rush of ‘Northern Skies’. A combination of the late- night, down-and-out, character of Hawley’s Coles Corner and Serge Gainsbourg– esque orchestration, which creates a mystique that defines the record’s overall mood: one of soul searching darkness, which is achieved naturally through Bramwell’s vulnerable voice and his use of minor keys. ‘Fingerprints’ continues from where ‘Northern Skies’ took off, only every verse punctuated by a frenetic ensemble that betrays the simplicity of this trio. The song’s coda of maudlin strings immediately leads one to The Beatles’ ‘Eleanor Rigby’, itself a masterpiece of Northern– English realism.
Lyrically, Bramwell is at his most ribald and witty in ‘Proof’, where self- reflection breathes new life into cliches: “Say, d’you wanna spin another line/ like we had a good time/ not that I need proof”. ‘I Still Do’ and ‘Same Shoes’ find him digging deep and lamenting passed opportunities.
What makes Sky at Night such a success is its constant reach for every song’s real personality. On ‘The Moon is a Blind Eye’, thundering drums and sparse piano lines play behind Bramwell’s voice. Small touches in the mix all combine to create a great song that builds slowly with ease. Only ‘Lately’, with its chorus that’s too- close- for- comfort to Joe Cocker’s version of ‘Get by with a Little Help from My Friends’, intrudes on the album’s continuity. Minor gripes aside, Sky at Night is the sound of a band that have never been more comfortable in their skin.