Review Summary: With more focus and consistency, Sky At Night sees Kloot's vision finally make sense. It's about time.
As introductions go, I Am Kloot's 'Proof' was one of the most breathtaking I've had in a long time. It was also a long time ago
; the nostalgic, picked guitars of that track found their way onto the Mancunian band's self-titled second album and promise great things which the songs surrounding it, for the most part, couldn't live up to. There was something in John Bramwell's naked vocal style which hit the senses hard, something intangible in the soft tambourines that pushed the simple, understated melody along with enormous ease. But though the scenery around it was crafted from the same tools, it lacked the sense of magic, the hazy aesthetic dragged out of Manchester's greyest skies and smokiest bars.
A cursory glance to the track listing for I Am Kloot's 2010 record will tell you that the band have re-recorded the closest thing they ever had to a hit for their new release, which begs a very obvious question: why? Are Kloot desperate for material, struggling for ideas and delving into their own back catalogue for a get-out clause? Well, no. Simply put, the British three-piece include 'Proof' on Sky At Night
as a statement of intent, a deliberate wink which says that they don't believe they've ever fulfilled their potential, or at least not as much as they have with this new album. And you know what? They're right. And 'Proof' isn't even the best song here.
So, since the band themselves clearly realised that this was a step-up in terms of quality and consistency compared to their previous records, what do we attribute that to? The presence of fellow Mancs Elbow's Guy Garvey and Craig Potter in the studio as producers is from the word go an obvious factor; props to 2008's Mercury Prize winners for not turning Kloot into a half-baked version of themselves, as would have been fairly easy, but the material here does stray in that direction if any. It's nowhere nearly as grandiose, but it is more polished and less gritty than the group's earlier offerings; 'Proof' itself is smoother and less imposing, relaxed brass adorns closer 'Same Shoes', while the epic build of 'Radiation' with its strings and handclaps does to some extent mimic Elbow's hit 'One Day Like This' but the end product is a different beast entirely, purely due to its tone.
The songwriting has been fleshed out but not butchered; Bramwell always had a knack for quaint observation and delivering slight clichés with a wry smile and a vivid image, and it hasn't left him. In fact, he's probably better here than he's ever been, all understated hooks which over the course of 40 minutes work their way into the air around you. The chances are you won't remember which song the melodies are from, but you won't be able to forget the tunes, especially mid-tempo opener 'Northern Skies', whose chorus asks, "Where did you go on that big, black night? Did you take the coast road back through your life?" Kloot's frontman doesn't dive and explode very often, choosing instead to meander and reflect, and the music does the same; loose basslines, laid-back drums, lazy harmonies.
Like Elbow back in 2008, I Am Kloot and this record are nominated for 2010's Mercury Prize. They won't win it, but it's a sign of how far they've come from writing ballads which arguably ripped off Oasis; they finally seem to have found their niche after years of searching, and it pays off by the bucketload. This is a record with charm, maturity, elegance and craft worked into their introspective rock of old. It floats and drifts between choruses and verses without paying too much attention to itself, but behind the scenes it's also meticulous and terribly catchy. You always wondered whether they'd be able to find a place where their songwriting could exist without the inconsistency and awkwardness, and lo; here it is. Proof.