Recording on analogue equipment is enjoying something of a comeback these days, what with Liam Watson’s ToeRag Studios being the first port of call for artists as diverse as The White Stripes and Madness. Nottingham-based quartet The Soundcarriers might not have travelled down to Watson’s London gaff (Harmonium was recorded in their own studio), but in essence their ideals are the same. This is pre-digital era music in spirit and sound, and blooming lovely it is too.
Leonore Wheatley (vocals/keyboards), Dorian Conway (guitar), Paul Isherwood (bass) and Adam Cann (drums) are self-confessed record collector nerds, but don’t hold that against them. They use their love of psych-rock, easy listening and rare groove to create a refreshing sound that gives Stereolab and Broadcast a stern run for their money.
After the swirling psych atmospherics of the opening Intro, the album segues into the beautiful Time Will Come. Heavy on the reverb, as if Joe Meek was in the control booth directing proceedings, the track gradually builds into a heady slice of harmony pop that positively reeks of the ’60s. Wheatley’s breathy vocals are spot on, but it is Cann’s restless, jazzy percussion that really drives the track.
Uncertainty and Caught By The Sun mine the same retro pop groove, utilising a diverse range of instruments including harps, flutes, recorders and the titular harmonium. The obvious influence of harmony pop group The Free Design is particularly notable on the latter track, and it is no surprise to learn that the Design’s Chris Dedrick has penned sleeve notes for the vinyl edition of Harmonium (a beautiful package, by the way, as you would expect from these retro kids).
Calling Me is an intricately constructed pop delight, but a harder edged reprise of the song marks a subtle shift in the progress of this delightfully sequenced album. Volcano is out-and-out psych rock, complete with wah wah guitar and distorted vocals, while Been Out To Sea ventures into wacked out soundtrack territory.
The highlight arguably is the two-part Without Sound, which morphs from a cooler than cool Serge Gainsbourg Europop groove into a psych wig-out that showcases Cann’s precision drumming.
There are some great instrumental passages on the second half of the album for connoisseurs of psychedelic grooves, with Cannonball, Let It Ride and On That Line wearing their freak flag status proudly.
Elsewhere, Falling For You and the title track are lovely organic pop with wistful harmonies and charming melodies, the latter playing the album out on a note of summery optimism.
Harmonium could quite easily have been a sterile exercise in musical pastiche. What The Soundcarriers have turned the album into is a living, breathing entity that restores the listener’s faith in music.