The Second Album Syndrome. Some artists are doomed to live out their lives rewriting the same song. Others jerk the steering wheel so hard they derail off the tracks. On their second record, Stealing Sheep have escaped doing either. Or maybe they’ve done both.
In 2012, the Liverpool trio cast a spell with their debut album ‘Into the Diamond Sun’. Take the tongue-twisting ‘Shut Eye’ as Exhibit A: they mastered both their deliciously dark age folk, and the dark arts of pop. It would be easy for Stealing Sheep to come back for more of the same, but to say that would be easy would be doing them a disservice. It’s a mystery how Oasis, over seven albums of inbred indie, avoided being sued for plagiarising themselves; they never tried doing ‘medieval-kraut-folk’.
On ‘Not Real’, you want to dance back around the campfire until sunrise rolls round like it’s 2012 all over again. But Stealing Sheep won’t sit still long enough to be shepherded into categories. It becomes clear very quickly (about ten seconds into opener ‘Sequence’) that they’ve taken the ‘if it ain’t broke, break it and start again’ ethos.
And the re-invention doesn’t stop there. ‘Not Real’ is so wired up it can’t help but break down and rebuild itself with a new eureka moment every sixty seconds. There’s still no sense of label execs breathing down their necks until they cough up another radio-pleasing hit. This isn’t a record multi-tracked in their plush Liverpool studio – it’s a deadly potion brewed deep in the forbidden forest. And yet the pop moments don’t let up. From the demented dancefloor of ‘Deadlock’ to the rolling sunrise of ‘Evolve and Expand’, ‘Not Real’ shifts from vivid dream to woozy reality.
No wonder it’s called ‘Not Real’ – it’s hard to believe this wasn’t all a dream.