Label: Elefant Records
Release date: 2015-04-20
Reviewed By Jeff Penczak
Bobby Wratten returned to Elefant with a 10” mini-album in February and here is his first full length since his self-imposed hiatus following Trembling Blue Stars’ 2010 2LP finale, Fast Trains and Telegraph Wires / Cicely Tonight Volume 1. Joining Wratten are Beth Arzy (Aberdeen, The Luxembourg Signal) and Michael Hiscock, former bassists from several of Wratten’s earlier projects, (cf. The Field Mice, Trembling Blue Stars, The Occasional Keepers). Wratten helped introduce us to the world of “twee’ via formative projects on Sarah Records like The Field Mice, Northern Picture Library, and Another Sunny Day. (Look up “twee” in the dictionary and you’re likely to see his mugshot alongside the Sarah label logo!) In fact, trainspotters will recall that Wratten and Hiscock co-wrote ‘Let’s Kiss and Make Up’, which jumpstarted Sarah Cracknell’s career with Saint Etienne via her re-recording which featured on the US version of their Fox Base Alpha debut.
So with all this background and history, you have a pretty good idea what to expect from LIATH. Except, of course, that Wratten doesn’t like to live in the past or rest of past laurels. So LIATH tested the waters a few months back with their ‘The Memory Museum’ single, which sounds like a mellower New Order-via-Electronic. ‘The Pattern Room’ features lovely double-tracked vocals from Arzy, but is overshadowed by annoyingly hyperactive drumming. By the time we reach ‘The Passerby’ we are back in familiar territory: gorgeous guitar lines, melancholic lyrics, whispered vocals (a Wratten trademark), and a sense of heartbreak around every corner. Like Mark Kozelek with a Nick Drake chaser, Fragments of A Former Moon will make you want to crawl into bed and pull the covers over your head and sulk all day whilst grey skies and pissing rain dominate the weather forecast. No Bryter Layter optimism here, no siree!
The ambient ‘Fever Dreams of Emelia’ sounds like it was intended for a soundtrack, all full of ‘Grantchester Meadows’-styled faunal drop-ins and ‘The Absentee’ is even more morose – like setting a Kafka short story to music and excising the happy ending! Wratten even gives up singing entirely about halfway through and drops in what could only be described as a scratchy old 78 to scratch away the heartache. I haven’t felt this depressed since Robert Smith delivered his “suicide trilogy”: Faith, Seventeen Seconds, andPornography.
Another instrumental interlude, ‘Taking The Figure Out Of The Landscape’ is as lonely and contemplative as it sounds, recalling old favourites like Piano Magic, Rachel’s, and post rock guitarscapers Labradford and Tortoise. ‘I Dreamt Music’ and ‘Night Traveller’ suggest Wratten may enjoy the somnambulist state more than his waking hours – at least they sprinkle relatively upbeat melody lines, more gorgeous guitars (and, in the latter, another tremendous Arzy vocal) into the proceedings. There’s even a minimalist, heartbreaking guitar exercise a la Vini Reilly’s Durutti Column to wrap things up (‘Starfields’) that does indeed sound like it was beamed down from Alpha Centauri, or those titular fragments of a former moon which exploded in the sky long ago and far away.
So, it’s no knee slapper, to be sure, but rather something to put on late at night and nostalgically contemplate relationships, tomorrow’s sunrise, and all the broken hearts and memories you left behind.