Hard as it may to be believe, there was a time when Sheffield music wasn’t purely associated with spiky indie-guitar and regional accents. Yes, long before Arctic Monkeys, Little Man Tate and Reverend And The Makers had even been born, the Steel City was known as the home of electro. The Human League, Heaven 17, Cabaret Voltaire – all of them put South Yorkshire on the musical map with a barrage of synths and deadpan vocals.
It’s that ’80s heyday that Northern Kind, a new duo who divide their time between Leicester and Sheffield, most remind one of. This, their debut album, is full of chock full of pure pop, designed to make you grab a hairbrush and head towards the nearest bedroom mirror.
Despite the Sheffield connection, there’s one name that keeps cropping up throughout 53 Degrees North, and that is Vince Clarke during his Yazoo era. Matt Culpin, half of Northern Kind, has apparently worked with Depeche Mode in the past and his influences are written all over this album.
Playing Alison Moyet to Culpin’s Clark is vocalist Sarah Heeley. One criticism of electro-pop is that it’s sometimes a bit cold, a bit too aloof and lacking in human emotion. Heeley effortlessly tackles this with her strong, warm vocals – think of an unholy alliance between Sophie Ellis-Bextor and Alison Goldfrapp and you’re halfway there.
If you’re looking for angst-filled meanderings, then you’re in the wrong place. Every track on 53 Degrees North is big, shiny and unashamedly commercial. Songs such as See The Light, Sometimes, and especially Step Back could even be big hits given enough publicity.
There’s catchy choruses aplenty (Sometimes and See The Light in particular should really have a Government Health Warning slapped on them) and even the less obviously commercial tracks, such as Loser or Home, reveal hidden delights with each repeated play – the latter would sound particularly effective watching the sun rise while stretched out on a beach on Ibiza for example.
There’s even been attention paid to the lyrics, which isn’t often the case in electro-pop. Step Back has the winning couplet of “I’m feeling rude, I might hit the booze if you don’t talk to me”, while other songs tackle relationships gone wrong with all the grandeur of early Pet Shop Boys.
It’s true that, like a lot of electro-pop, the tracks do all sound a bit similar and if you’re yet to be converted to the ways of the synth, then you won’t find much here to tempt you. This is superior electro-pop though, and if you’re a fan of the genre, you may well just have a new favourite band in Northern Kind.