Having found a renewed sense of intimacy and focus on 2011’s impressive low-key Lights mini-album, this new Last Harbour long-player comes with a greater sense anticipation than 2010’s Volo prequel. And although Lights came more consciously bound in a stand-alone and simplified approach, there is certainly a sense of continuity on Your Heart, It Carries The Sound, which unveils itself as both an ornate and understated affair.
Recorded in a Manchester church, Your Heart… channels a sense of devotional warmth and incorporeal space that even the religiously ambivalent can find in ecclesiastical environments. Combined with core line-up changes, new guest players and some instrument re-tooling, the record retains trademark Last Harbour traits but presents subtle and inventive new variations.
Certainly the opening quartet of compositions could be the strongest suite of songs to have opened a Last Harbour LP up to this point. The slow-burning title-track inaugurates the collection with a smouldering swelling hymnal resonance that stirringly summons-up the ghosts of Dead Can Dance’s The Serpent’s Egg, Joy Division’s Closer and Nico’s The Marble Index, albeit without any dated-production parodying. Even better is the ensuing “Never,” a sublime spine-tingling orchestral ballad – with underlying shades of both early-Spiritualized and Tindersticks circa Curtains – which could be an alternative lovers’ torch-song were it not for the sometimes bleak lyrical barbs. The gorgeous string and woodwind twining across the subsequent wintriness of “The Heath” cleverly changes the album’s direction from mood-setting towards mood-capturing, allowing the prowling “Narrow Hearts” to unapologetically recall the atmospheric passages within Gallon Drunk’s From The Heart Of Town, replete with Terry Edwards-style baritone sax and subterranean Mike Delanian-like bass skulking. Quite contentedly, Last Harbour could have made an exemplary EP with the first four stand-out cuts – especially given how well the band is often served by short-form releases – yet Your Heart… continues on with further shifts in musical personas.
Hence, the mid-point twosome of “Annabel” and “Catherine Rising” offer peeled-back rustic closeness; with the former being a sparse unplugged baroque serenade and the latter being a twinkling all-too-short medievalist folk reverie. After the half-time tranquillity comes perhaps the long-player’s most raucous amplified epic in the shape of “Replacements,” which perhaps might have sounded better at home on the band’s more live-centric 2008 album, Dead Fires & The Lonely Spark. In its wake, for the almost-waltzing “Open Up And Rust,” Craig is joined at the microphone by keyboard-player Gina Murphy for an effective but slightly under-fulfilling broken lovers duet. However, greater interest comes from the closing trio of tracks. Thus, “The Stars Look Down” unfurls a whispery dark tale through eerie nocturnal acoustic layers; the delightfully dank “If You Mean To Be Lost” stirs vintage synths, stalking drums and treated electric guitars into an arrestingly claustrophobic stew; and the closing slow-motion “This Is How We Disappeared” skilfully sets child-like percussion against whirring electronics and languorous guitars.
Dissecting Your Heart, It Carries The Sound in its prescribed sequence reveals that it’s not quite as straightforward to sum up as it first appears. Ultimately, it might have made more sense as two or even three separate EPs; to divvy-up its alluring romantic grandness, its sonic explorations and its backwards glances. Yet at a time when albums should also be striving to gather-up eclectic thoughts into combined statements, the divergent characters at play here are certainly welcome under one roof. Encouragingly too, for a group with well over a decade on the clock, there is little sign of Last Harbour’s creativity winding-down. Quite the contrary in fact, for although Your Heart, It Carries The Sound isn’t perfect, it does point in several promising directions for future accomplishments. Taken ‘as is’ though, the album has much for long-serving trackers of Last Harbour’s ongoing journey to embrace and hold close.