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This little beaut here is the work of 'supergroup' The Magnetic North', which seems primarily to be under the capable direction of Erland "& the Carnival" Cooper, driven to creativity by a visit from a dead girl from the 1770s in a dream, who "told him to make an album about the Orkney Islands. She even handed him a list of track names and played him some excerpts from the finished album." Well, there you go! One of the tracks is named after the girl in question, so my guess is that she's a bit self-centred.
Anyway, to make this psychogeographical snapshot Erland enlisted friends Hannah Peel and Simon Tong as well as various musicians from the island community itself, making for quite a lively, richly orchestrated bit of pastoral indie pop where strings and brass and subtle electronics. You'd think an album about a remote Scottish island would be quite desolate but actually the first thing that's striking me here is how much affection seems to have been invested in it. The arrangements are lush and tasteful and although some of the songs are somewhat downbeat it's not glumming me out like I thought it might, instead coming across as a picture of a vibrant community with a rich cultural heritage. There's a good mix of modern playfulness and timeless neoclassical-inflected songwriting that keep things interesting throughout despite the radio-friendliness of the material, with the vocal loops and stuttering electronics of shimmering closer 'Yesnaby' being a particular highlight for me. Cooper's rich, deep voice is well complemented by Peel's silky backing vocals throughout and the overall effect is kind of makes me think of a more lush, sensuous take on the recent King Creosote & Jon Hopkins material. Well worth a listen if you're into melodic, composed indie pop.
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- Orkney: Symphony of the Magnetic North by The Magnetic North
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