I Am Kloot originally emerged out of the dubiously titled 'new acoustic movement' four years ago, and their debut album Natural History was something of a mould-breaker. A quiet revolution of acoustic brilliance, bitter-sweet lyrics and above all, genuine musical integrity. These three guys play with a rare and exceptional ardor, and are thankfully not driven by writing music to make a living. If that was their mission they'd have quit long before now. It's that authenticity which gives their apparently bare and sparse sounding music an unexpectedly potent presence.
The first thing that strikes you about this album is the comparatively liberal use of instrumentation. For a band whose entire first album consisted of an acoustic guitar, a bass and a set of drums, the introduction of a piano is quite a progression, let alone a French horn. But once the initial panic has subsided ("They've sold out! They've abandoned their roots!") it soon becomes clear that this is the same old sound - it's just richer, fuller and there's simply more of it. Which is a good, and perhaps necessary thing, considering how familiar so much of it sounds.
There was always the danger that due to the band's unique and distinctive style, any follow up album might have been written off as simply a rehash of Natural History. But this album contains enough innovation and originality to set itself apart, standing alone in dark, mysterious grandeur - a miniature masterpiece of gritty ballads and sultry serenades to the mean streets of life.
The first track, Untitled #1, reacquaints us with John Bramwell's instantly recognizable northern busker's accent, accompanied by a n uncomplicated melody. Like many of their songs though, it's deceptively catchy, as it gently draws the listener in.
Following on and upping the ante is From Your Favourite Sky with its Spanish style guitar opening and anthem-loaded chorus.
The third track Life In A Day pulls us up abruptly with its stomping bass and heavy drum intro, the occasional clash of electric guitar reminding us that the old dog's learnt a few new tricks.
And before long a darker side emerges as we're swirling about in the distorted, sinister, slurring waters of Cuckoo followed by the unhurried elegy Mermaids, which reverberates with eerie, ambiguous echoes.
In my opinion they've saved the best till last as the final five tracks encompass everything that makes I Am Kloot great. Melodic and stirring, evocative and inspiring, these tracks stand out as an acoustic tour de force, ending with the serenely stirring Same Deep Water As Me.
I Am Kloot are writing the kind of music now that you'd expect from a wizened, aging rock band who've spent the last twenty years on the road, tasted the glory of fame, felt the bitter depths of despair and have settled down to write some real songs. And that's a compliment.
There's not a single redundant note here; there's nothing excessive or superfluous about these songs, there's not an ounce of musical fat on this beast. Lean, mean and refreshingly raw; every melody, lick and lyric has had to fight for its place on this album. Lyrically you'll be hard pushed to find a surplus rhyme, unnecessary adjective or careless euphemism amongst Bramwell's flick-knife repartee and uncannily accurate observations.
This album is in every sense a competent sequel and establishes I Am Kloot firmly as the current curators of that old-fashioned northern soul.
:: Tom West