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Last Harbour - Volo

  by John Clarkson

published: 2 / 3 / 2010

Last Harbour - Volo
Label: Little Red Rabbit Records
Format: CD


Unpredictable and haunting fourth album from Manchester-based alt. rockers, Last Harbour

There is an edge of unpredictability to ‘Volo’, Last Harbour’s fourth full-length album. As suits a record that takes its name from an early 20th century type of children’s Ouija board, one is never quite sure what is going to happen next with it. It is an album of the elements. Part of this undoubtedly comes from the Manchester collective’s decision to hand over all mixing duties once the album was finished to their co-producer Richard Formby. Formby has heightened and intensified further some of the band’s already tightly composed arrangements and at one point even built a new track out of sections of the previous track. ‘The Weave’ is a churning industrial number and was developed out of loops from the song that precedes it, an Eastern European–tinged waltzing baroque rock piece, ‘The Loom’. Much of it is down, however, to the band itself, which has become increasingly ambitious and confident with each new recording. The group has been together since 1999 and in its current line-up since 2004. Consisting of founding members Kevin Craig (vocals), David Armes (acoustic and electric guitars, loops) and also Gina Murphy (piano, vocals), Sarah Kemp (violin), James Youngjohns (viola, tenor guitar, pedal steel and mandolin), Michael Doward (bass) and Huw McPherson (drums), it has become steadily more and more prepared also to take risks with every release. ‘Volo’ is a record of sweeping, thrilling turbulence. Some tracks build up often suddenly and after a slow start with immense tension to great heights, creating a surging mass of acoustic and electric guitars, strings and piano. Others just as dramatically abruptly stop or fade away. It makes for an album of great anticipation, atmosphere and excitement, and a record that grips its listener’s attention simply because a minute or two minutes away it is impossible to guess where this energetic, sometimes volatile group will be next. Across a backdrop of weeping violins and accordion and over four brief interludes a French speaker Anne-Laure Franchette muses in her mother tongue. Kevin Craig in his grandiose, baritone vocals and lyrics is equally enigmatic and theatrical. The characters that inhabit Last Harbour’s songs are all obsessives, in some cases pushed to the cusp of insanity by their wants and desires. Craig is, however, not really interested in how they have got to that point, just in their present state of mind and psyche. “When I first saw you/When I first saw you/My breath hung in the air,” he sings backed by slow plucks of guitar and light strikes of piano on aching lament ‘Mount Analogue’. This opening track briefly looks set to drift to an early close, before blasting suddenly upwards. “I’ll dig for your heart for as long as it takes,” he adds later on against the stormy dirge of instrumentation that closes this tune. It doesn’t get any less bleak or sinister later on. “It is dark/I’m just trying to find my way home,” he croons on shimmering ballad, ‘The Blood is a Compass’. ‘All of My Triumphs are Written in Your Hand’, a short number with slow rolls of strings and piano, just momentarily offers brief hope but then snatches it away. “It is a good thing we are the best of friends,” Craig reflects, before adding with vicious deadpan relish, “Nobody better get between us.” “This is the devil’s work/I see his hand in your hand,” he laments on orchestral gypsy waltz, ‘The Fever’. On album closer ‘If They’re Right’, another final number of windy sound effects which starts slowly and then soars steadily upwards, he is similarly paranoiac. “What if they’re right?/And what if they’re right?” he rages, ending with the same sense of powerful drama that has embedded the rest of the album. Evocative, mysterious, challenging and totally compelling, ‘Volo’ is a masterwork from a band of powerful dynamics and tensions.

Track Listing:-
1 (i)
2 Mount Analogue
3 Sunken Bells
4 The Blood Is A Compass
5 All Of My Triumphs Are Written In Your Hand
6 (ii)
7 The Loom
8 The Weave
9 Don't Fall
10 (iii)
11 Thread By Thread
12 The Fever
13 Chosen Vessels
14 (iv)
15 Lights
16 If They're Right

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