As such the Newcastle sextet’s 11-track debut both showcases new material, as well as reworking tracks such as album opener ‘Lungs Quicken’ which takes on a new lease of life, and immediately sets the tone and character of the rest of the songs. From its beautiful, hushed beginnings complete with piano tinkling, to the gradual swelling strings, from the very start Lanterns On The Lake establish a trend for haunting harmonies and eerie calmness.
For at the heart of all that Lanterns On The Lake creates is Hazel Wilde’s captivating voice, particularly on the more peculiar tracks such as ‘Tricks’ and ‘Blanket Of Leaves’. It’s her hushed yet distinctive vocals that glue each of the songs together – occasionally with the harmonising aid of guitarist Paul Gregory – so that even amongst the haven of hushed instrumental calm, sweeping guitars and soaring strings that come to epitomise Lanterns’ offerings, her voice remains omnipresent and defining.
Yet it’s also the lyrical tales and narratives that weave their way onto their music and accentuate the modern folkiness of their instrumentation that are another charming characteristic. Take ‘Ships In The Rain’, a song apparently prompted by the story of a local fisherman who went missing at sea, or the following track, ‘A Kingdom’ – inspired by a book of letters sent home by WW2 soldiers – and it’s easy to see how Lanterns’ modern music works alongside more traditional lyrical devices, creating an album that is both thoroughly of the time, yet simultaneously retains its roots.
Elsewhere, ‘Keep On Trying’ focuses on the band’s desire for innate attention to detail: soft crackles abound and a plethora of almost inaudible elements make this album charmingly unpolished, a result, perhaps, of the album being recorded in various locations – from old, empty buildings to self-made studios, indeed in environs as remote as the surroundings that they vividly paint in their songs’ lyrics.
It is these subtleties, whether melodies, simple percussion or integrated background noise, that make ‘Gracious Tide…’ such an exceptional album, and one that – as its homely and familiar title suggests, alongside the sentiments expressed in tracks such as ‘I Love You, Sleepyhead’ and ‘Places We Call Home’ – manages to incorporate a slice of everyday life into an otherwise remarkable and unusual album.
But, their sextet status aside, there are many moments where ‘Gracious Tide…’ sounds very much a solo affair, whether it’s specific segments such as the initial subtle piano and vocal duet of ‘I Love You, Sleepyhead’, or just the general tranquil ambiance. Despite the presence of occasional orchestrated outbursts – particularly the majestic swells of ‘A Kingdom’ – in general the record lacks a variance of dynamics: indeed it’s only after extensive listening that the individual elements of each of the songs begin to reveal themselves fully. Lacklustre it isn’t, yet you cant help but feel that in a live environment these nuances of sound would be much more evident and exaggerated, providing extended contrast and colour to the recordings’ more muted sound.
Yet the courage to explore these moments of quietude, especially as a sizeable band, is ultimately to the band’s credit. The decision to end ‘Gracious Tide…’ with the suddenly skeletal and silent track ‘Not Going Back To the Harbour’, which glides in at just over one minute, is a bold one. Although soft, save for the odd clanging guitar strings, it’s an also abrupt end to an enchanting album, one that – despite its significant subtleties – never fails to pull you into the depths of the band’s lyrical stories and the stunning details of their own music.
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