Last Harbour – The Host of Wild Creatures

Last Harbour
The Host of Wild Creatures

After one ultra-rare 7″(2000’s marvellously minimal Hidden Songs EP) and a mini-album of Dutch radio sessions (2001’s beguiling and boisterous An Empty Box Is My Heart) that have marked out Last Harbour as one of the most driven and ambitious groups to emanate from the British undergrowth, here at last comes the first (of hopefully many) full-length albums.
Marshalled by the core partnership of singer Kevin Craig and guitarist David Armes, the Last Harbour collective continue to explore emotional depths that others fear to tread as well as maintaining a musical vision that looks far beyond the limitations of low-budget resources. Assembling a cast of likeminded new players in their open-minded operation, The Host of Wild Creatures is the culmination of four or so years’ hard-craft.
Entirely self-produced in a variety of locations (Manchester and Nottingham homes, Salford University’s recording studio, and a small shed in a country park), the group carefully captures a desolate late-night ambience that broods heavy on the ear whilst aiming directly at the heart. The scope of styles and the deftness of the musical arrangements suggest that Last Harbour are keen not to stand still within one sound bubble or to hold back inspired aims with dilapidated delivery.
The gorgeous instrumental introduction to the album comes in the form of the “Bookseller Song,” which marries beautiful Dirty Three-flavoured violin lines (from extremely gifted new recruit Sarah Kemp) to David Armes’ pastoral Pullman and Papa M shaped acoustic strumming and picking. Elsewhere the ensemble deliver an obscure Millie Jackson soul cover, “If Lovin’ You Is Wrong” with a deliberately doomed romanticism that might tickle the ears of Tom Waits or Tindersticks fans. Along the way, Kevin Craig’s near-solo vocal and piano ballad, “From The Sea,” stumbles along the same gloriously twisted path Nick Cave found himself on for 1986’s seminal Your Funeral… My Trial album.
Another indispensable instrumental interlude, “Goodbye Huw” (named in homage to the group’s occasional drummer Huw McPherson) plays around with the same voodoo percussion that The Stones deployed and dismembered on Exile On Main Street. Meanwhile, the lovely lilting lament “Salt In My Tears” prowls around the same country-slanted neighbourhood as Freakwater, The Palace Brothers, and The Walkabouts.
The band perhaps only struggles to sustain their magic pull when they try a little too hard to impose a mood on certain songs here. The funereal duets (such as “Mark Your Allegiance”) between Kevin Craig and keyboardist Gina Murphy feel slightly overloaded with deliberate malevolence, when the melodies are strong enough to carry heavy-hearted sentiments well enough on their own. So maybe sometimes a looser mode of presentation might give some of Last Harbour’s darkest strands a more natural presence.
But when Last Harbour deliver such sublime moments as “South-Facing Room” – a lush ballad that sails majestically through shoals of shimmering pianos, washes of swelling strings, and waves of woodwind – then it’s evident that even greater things are around every corner of every good idea presented here. Time and practice will iron out any creative creases. Enjoy listening to them grow stronger and cherish their special acts of emotive engagement en route.