It seems to have become something of a cliche recently, especially when talking about Mancunian bands for some reason, to mention a band’s long hard struggle for public recognition. The years of battling with record companies, the critically adored albums that sold very few copies, the bumpy journey that inevitably ends with Mercury Prizes and support slots with U2.
So, will I Am Kloot be 2010’s version of Elbow and Doves John Bramwell’s band seem to have suffered more than most over the last decade – their four albums have been met with gushing praise, but mention of their name to most people would probably provoke a look of puzzled bemusement. So, it seems somewhat appropriate that old friends Guy Garvey and Craig Potter of Elbow should come onboard to produce Sky At Night.
There are many parallels between Elbow and Kloot – mostly that both bands are masters at writing bruised, battered songs about heartache and the human condition and sketching characters who usually find solace at the bottom of a glass. And while there isn’t the uplifting quality that Elbow can often provide – you’ll find nothing as life-affirming as A Day Like This on here – the parallels between the two bands can easily be seen, although Garvey and Potter have wisely resisted the temptation to turn this into a watered down Elbow album.
To The Brink, for example, is a beautifully sketched tale of the grim kind of watering hole that will be familiar to anyone who knows Garvey’s work. “Do you fancy a drink, I know a place called The Brink, do you wanna go there?” sings Bramwell over a steadying sway of strings before telling of characters like “the guy on the bus, who’s not quite one of us” who “sits by the bar, much to everyone else’s annoyance”. Close your eyes, and you can almost picture the scene taking place in any down at heel Manchester boozer.
There’s certainly a dark edge to Bramwell’s work – Lately offers a glimpse into a fractured psyche where “the crazies still come for me, in the night….what do they want”. It’s a show-stopping number, with massed backing vocals rising up from the ether for the chorus, and a tinkling piano keeping things from getting too bleak. And while the pace never rises above a mid-tempo trot, this is still an accessible listen – opening track Northern Skies could easily become a big radio hit, given the backing.
Bramwell’s nasal vocals may not be to all tastes, but his flat Mancunian vowels give Sky At Night a heart-warming quality – it’s impossible to listen to the aforementioned Northern Skies without feeling slightly warm and cosy. The inclusion of Proof is a puzzling one though – it’s a marvellous song, but dates back to 2003 and features on the band’s second album. It’s nice to hear a re-recorded version, but it’s not clear why it makes yet another appearance here.
Whether Sky At Night will eventually send I Am Kloot into the stratosphere is a moot point – it may possibly prove too downbeat and glum for mass commercial audiences. Yet these expertedly crafted songs do deserve a wider hearing, and if this album is to remain a hidden treasure, then it’s the general public’s loss in all honesty.