Last Harbour - Lights

by Rich Morris Rating:7 Release Date:2011-02-14

Manchester's sultans of delicious miserablism return with this fine mini-album, which features one of the lushest songs from last year's Volo as its lead track. 'Lights' encapsulates Last Harbour's sound - mournful strings, portentous dynamics which blossom from uneasy whisper to stentorian hysteria, and singer Kevin Craig's booming, dark vocals, which lend the affair an unmistakable whiff of murder ballad.

The downbeat, desperate air, alleviated by a few precious moments of scintillating beauty, recalls the output of 80s Pulp, when Jarvis Cocker was as prone to turning out a bleak dissection of a failing love affair as a ribald disco number. That incarnation of Pulp, however, could never have summoned the velvety textures which swaddle the uneasy sentiments of 'If They're Right', an alternative mix of one of Volo's strongest tracks and the standout number here. Craig moans, "Check on the children/ Wish no harm to become them" over lamenting strings, sounding as if he secretly wishes the very opposite.

Elsewhere we have the fragile, lachrymose prettiness of 'Alone for the Winter', sounding very much like Sparklehorse, the stirring chamber-pop of 'Boy in the Photograph', the folky 'Animals Once More' and final song 'Be Happy Tonight's haunting plea for a "girl from the wrong side of the tracks" to stay safe. It's impressive how much variation Last Harbour find within what, in other hands, would be a limited sonic palette of ballads and weeping laments. An inventive production, making use of ambient, scene-setting sounds, certainly helps.

If Last Harbour have a weak point, it is, ironically, Craig's vocals, which, although extremely accomplished, are so rich, so dramatic and swooning, that they occasionally puncture the reality of the subject matter. It wouldn't do for Last Harbour to become so exquisitely gothic that one can't relate their music to real life. That aside, this is a strong set of songs from a band which continues to mine its own uniquely bleak and beautiful seam.

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