Stop us if you’ve heard this one before. Atmospheric, string-driven folk, glitched and scratched and haunted by subtle electronics and half-whispered, buried vocals – songs that linger in the shadows, illumined by candlelight and lilting melodies, music boxes and nostalgia.
Make no mistake, you have heard this before. Sigur Ros, The Deer Tracks, Godspeed! You Black Emperor, Vespertine-era Bjork – right now they’re gathering in a cavern somewhere to discuss litigation, the permanent smile slipping from Efterklang’s Casper Clausen’s face as he slams his fist with rage. It’s not so much that Gracious Tide, Take Me Home looks to them for influence as full-on gnaws upon their flesh, gorging until it throws up with a Scandinavian twang.
Slightly surprising, then, that Lanterns On The Lake hail not from some windswept fjord but from Newcastle, a sextet turning their backs on their environs to find inspiration in the sea. That’s understandable: faced with the cast of Geordie Shore most would opt for the watery depths. These people have gone further, however, crafting an album that steps back from modernity, evoking a nautical past rendered in sepia tones.
They aren’t alone here, of course: Iceland’s Múm took on similar themes in their 2004 Summer Make Good. But just because it’s derivative doesn’t stop Gracious Tide from being beautiful: there’s much to love here, from the Hoppipolla piano lines of opener ‘Lungs Quicken’, the swooping violin driving ‘If I’ve Been Unkind’ and the measured, aching build-up of ‘I Love You Sleepyhead’. Yet whilst Lanterns On The Lake are certainly adept at crescendos, it’s their more controlled moments that make the greater mark: in the ebb and the flow of mid-album standout ‘The Places We Call Home’, or the melancholic, echoed harmonies of ‘Ships In The Rain’.
On a musical level it’s an album that’s frequently quite stunning, to the point where the vocals can’t quite match: whilst Hazel Wilde’s voice has an appealing, wispy character, it’s too thin to carry songs this textured, and frequently drowns within the arrangements beneath. It’s only at the close, on the cracked and plaintive ‘Not Going Back To the Harbour’, that Wilde truly stands out, her voice naked and strained against the merest of acoustic guitar accompaniment: much better is when her vocals are balanced with those of Adam Sykes, his deeper tones a counterpoint to her fragile sighs.
Yet as pretty as it is Gracious Tide can make for a claustrophobic listen at points, its hermetic world slightly suffocating by the close, airless and claustrophobic. It’s perhaps an easier album to admire than to really enjoy, although for those who can get past the riptide of deja vu this more than warrants a few lonesome autumnal evenings.