[sic] Magazine

Last Harbour – Caul

Amazing, isn’t it? Living a little over half an hour from Manchester as I do, I thought I knew most of the bands based around the city – or certainly the ones with record deals. Subconsciously you kind of get used to seeing mentions of bands or interviews in the local music papers, gig listings, posters on walls, that sort of thing. On hearing this record by Last Harbour, it therefore came as somewhat of a surprise to discover that Caul is in fact Last Harbour’s eighth studio album. EIGHTH! How did that happen?

This reminds me of the sort of reaction I tend to witness from friends when I’m explaining that I have tickets for a gig; often when I say the band’s name they then tell me that they’ve never heard of them – it’s usually then that I mention that they’re just about to release their 30th album, or something similar. I guess some bands exist pretty much exclusively under the radar. Let’s face it, Elbow were still playing the ‘New Bands Tent’ at Glastonbury (now called the John Peel stage) several years after they’d already celebrated their tenth anniversary. Many bands have gone out of business by that point! And before some of you are starting to think about writing in, I know that Elbow aren’t from Manchester, they’re from Bury. But then again, according to some, Oasis weren’t even from Manchester, they originated from Burnage, 4 miles south of the city. For some people, a band isn’t from Manchester unless they live in a tunnel underneath St. Ann’s Square, take baths in the Royal Exchange and play secret gigs at the Deaf Institute where only their mates have tickets. Possibly.

So, it turns out that Last Harbour have ‘done an Elbow’ and built their own studio. Never a bad idea, for when you have your own studio, you can spend pretty much as long as you like creating a recording and not have to concern yourself with minor distractions such as rapidly increasing studio costs. It also allows time for great ideas to develop. Imagine how many great records never even saw the light of day because of limited recording budgets. Not so for Last Harbour – there’s a sound here that’s clearly been nurtured over time and which simply invites you in. It’s understated, warm and deeply hypnotic. Points of reference might be Nick Cave, The National or even The Doors. There are moments when the temperature is raised, certainly during ‘Fracture-Fragment’ and ‘Before The Ritual’. In fact, across the record, everything feels like it belongs here – I know that’s possibly an abstract comment, but how many times have you heard a record where a track’s been written by, say, the keyboard player, but the guitarist is kind of playing something which just doesn’t really feel like it should be there – almost like it’s superfluous or doesn’t belong. That’s not what’s happening here, all the dots are neatly joined up. This is a band who clearly knows its strengths and well-defined limits. During ‘Before The Ritual’, vocals are prominent throughout and reach for the sky during the chorus when a 60’s Hammond organ comes crashing in.

The album paints a dark, somewhat atmospheric picture. There are beautiful string sections, particularly on ‘Horse Without A Rider’ and, aligned with K. Craig’s baritone vocals, the whole thing engages to create an image of a bleak landscape. In fact, during the intro to ‘The Deal’, there is more than a hint of ‘Butterfly Caught’ by Massive Attack. That makes sense because while Last Harbour are certainly not operators in the world of trip-hop, they’re approaching the same dark world in which Massive Attack operates – but from a completely different entrance and exit. The vocals are the real centre point here, the instrumentation neatly folding and weaving itself around them. It makes for an engaging listen.

‘The Promise’ rounds things off – and when I say ‘rounds things off’ I kind of mean ‘runs a marathon, swims to Aberdeen, flies to Rome and paints the Sistine Chapel’. That’s because it extends for some 13 minutes and 10 seconds. Think about it – on some albums, that would equate to the entire first half of an album. It could be Last Harbour’s masterpiece. It’s certainly ambitious and serves almost as a statement of intent, but never for one moment feels like it overstays its welcome. If anything, quite the opposite. It escalates before drawing back to just a piano and hi-hat. At 10 minutes in, the song almost disappears completely before the final curtain, “Where the arrow falls, bury me, bury me”. Thrilling stuff.

Caul is available to preorder now via Gizeh online store. All preorders come with a digital download.

Last Harbour Official Webpage

Gizeh Online Store