“To cross the bridgeless gulf of chatter/To say just one thing that mattered,” sings I Am Kloot’s John Bramwell on Even the Stars, one of the centrepiece tracks on Let It All In. It almost serves as a manifesto for a band who, now six albums and over a decade into their career, have always seemed to follow their own vision rather than smooth the rough edges in order to achieve wider commercial success.
The closest they have come to doing this was 2010’s Mercury Music Prize-nominated Sky At Night, a luscious album which found them appealingly expanding their sound with assistance from long-term associates Guy Garvey and Craig Potter, better known as two-fifths of Elbow, who had their own spectacular breakthrough in 2008. It was I Am Kloot’s most successful record to date by some margin, yet it still failed to penetrate the wider public consciousness.
You would perhaps expect, then, that Let It All In would be adopting the ‘one more push’ ethos and striving to use this success as a springboard to greater stardom. The returning presence of Garvey and Potter would suggest this was the case, but it’s typical of the wilful talent of Bramwell that this album instead sees I Am Kloot largely returning to their spikier earlier years.
Opener Bullets is an acerbic, bluesy number which finds Bramwell bitter and (self-) disgusted: “You treat your mind like a cheap hotel/ Somewhere you could stay but never stop”. It begins in an attractively intimate manner before exploding into stinging guitar and cacophonous drums. It’s a great song but may prove somewhat bewildering to those approaching the band in hope of a surrogate Elbow or even more from where Sky At Night came. These people will find succour in current single These Days Are Mine, a pulsating psychedelic anthem reminiscent of prime Spiritualized. Built around the line “but I’m alive”, it’s self-consciously anthemic and builds upon strident string flourishes to reach an affecting choral climax which strongly recalls…well, Elbow.
The contrast between these two songs is typical of the album, which offers bleakness and optimism in equal measure. It’s a testament to Bramwell’s songwriting prowess that it largely works. Indeed, a song such as Hold Back The Night is testament to someone at the top of their game, its low-key opening flowing into an orchestral bridge before effortlessly shifting gear into a desperate, pounding finale. Its brilliant lyrics perhaps offer an insight into why the band refuses to polish itself for mass consumption, offering the austere observation “fill up your days and your pockets with plenty – soon they’ll be empty once again”.
Aforementioned Even The Stars is the album’s high point, its stirring expansiveness sounding like it should soundtrack the credits of an emotional coming-of-age film. It’s humane and compassionate, an ode to appreciating life and not being too hard on oneself. If any song has a chance of propelling I Am Kloot into the upper echelons of the charts, it’s this one. Elsewhere, Masquerade sounds uncannily like a Paul McCartney-penned b-side by The Beatles, offering a simple and strong melody replete with tight backing harmonies. It does, however, feel somewhat slight. The same problem afflicts Mouth On Me, a very straightforwardly catchy guitar track of the kind that once littered Shine compilations. It’s entertaining but not compelling.
It’s easy to see why Guy Garvey is so enamoured with I Am Kloot – Bramwell offers an idiosyncratic, beguiling and sometimes doleful take on life which echoes his own. Let It All In doesn’t particularly advance that template and at times seems almost obstinate – yet it is also adept, resolute and oddly charming. It’s unlikely to win the band many new fans but you don’t get the impression that they care – and that’s probably just how it should be.