In Klootworld, even the pub is world-weary–it's called the Brink. And the Manchester trio have been propping up the bar for too long now. A decade, in fact, for the best-kept secret Up North since Elbow threw off the shackles of public apathy. It's not been all frustrating, though; Germany loves them. Though the idea that the good folk of, say, Dusseldorf, prefer Kloot's gruff, nail-bitten and quintessentially Northern song more than the British isn't just bizarre, it's alarming.
Can the trio's fifth album, Sky at Night, change things? Guy Garvey, who produced Kloot's 2001 debut album Natural History, returns to do the honours again, assisted by his Elbow bandmate Craig Potter, so fame by association could rub off. Proof, from 2003's I Am Kloot, also returns, albeit re-recorded (though you'd never know), most likely because it was never official released as a single back then, despite a promo video starring Christopher Eccleston. The opening Northern Skies, however, is the new single, with another Eccleston cameo in the video. Fame by association again?
Clearly, frontman John Bramwell isn't a man for turning. Sky at Night simply distils and expands all Kloot's lovely strengths, from his taut, elegant tunes to resolutely bittersweet lyrics. "See the sand, the moon, the stars that shine a light and say / Well, they'll do alright for me," goes Northern Skies, but if Bramwell sometimes flirts with soap-opera sentiment, just like Garvey, you instinctively trust the sound of his expressive, swarthy croon.
So it's business as usual, but even at this 10-years-plus juncture, Kloot still scale the heights, especially the ballads. The Moon Is a Blind Eye is as pale and silvery as moonlight, I Still Do is equally bare and heart-wrenching, and To the Brink (the aforementioned boozer, where, "there's no rule of thumb, so on the counter I strum with my fingers / and I adore the surprise of tomorrow's sunrise, so I linger") has thin, weaving strings that lend a wistful 1940s charm–you can almost taste the cig smoke and amber ale. But Kloot can kick up the dust, too. Radiation's suspenseful intro gives way to see-sawing strings and a blast of euphoria to rival Elbow's One Day Like This, while soul-blues slowburner Lately features Garvey on gusty harmonies.
Really, if this lot can't boost Kloot's fortunes at home, they should give up or just move to Dusseldorf, whichever is less traumatic.
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Following 2007's I Am Kloot Play Moolah Rouge
, the album further goes to cement John Bramwell's status as one of the most talented songwriters in the country. Proud Manchester men they may be, but the record is infused with an almost Parisian elegance. Tracks like "It's Just The Night" and "The Moon Is A Blind Eye" reveal a Gainsbourg style of sophistication, but are still punctuated with their own inimitable Northern soul.
Opening with the warm, rolling "Northern Skies", it's followed by "To The Brink", a decadently faded show tune, with celestial strings balancing delicately against the kind of poignant musings more typically found at the bottom of a brandy glass. The theatrical instrumentation of "Lately" is lush and impressive, whilst remaining explicit and honest. Renowned harpist Marie Lionheardt provides a delicate accompaniment to the moving narrative in "I Still Do", while "Radiation" touches upon the Beatles' more psychedelic moments of orchestration.
A songwriter's songwriter, Bramwell is one of our finest wordsmiths and counts Pete Doherty and and Elbow's Guy Garvey amongst his many fans. Having produced their hugely acclaimed debut album "Natural History" Garvey, alongside bandmate Craig Potter, has returned to produce and mix this sublime ten track collection. With Sky at Night
, expect Kloot's cult status to soar skywards.