The Magnetic North are a group firmly dedicated to a sense of place: here they follow up their last record, Orkney Symphony, with Prospect Of Skelmersdale, a set of songs grounded in the titular town. More than a touch of hauntology is present in these yearning folkish numbers. On Full Time Hobby, with the CD version presented in a bookpack casing.
7/10 Clinton Staff review, 16 March 2016Assuming you are not stuck lifelong in traffic, if you drive up the M6 from Warrington towards Preston and look to your left you’ll see the town of Skelmersdale. It was originally designed as a new town to house overspill from Merseyside (or those wanting to escape) and managed to somehow lose 4000 inhabitants between 2004 and 2006. It’s not the sort of place hip young things flock to, though Stuart Maconie taught at Skelmersdale college for awhile. It is perhaps this lack of glamour is what directed folk collective the Magnetic North to write an album about it. Less glamorous perhaps than the Orkney they based their first album around. I like a bit of grim North West English pathos so its already the type of thing I’m interested in before I hear a note. The music is lovely high reaching folk with sweeping strings and ornate fluttery, quite at odds with the photo of a roundabout that adorns the sleeve. Each piece of music is spliced by old fashioned style narration of historical facts about the town. If you want to imagine Sufjan Stevens singing about Lancastrian new towns then you need to hear the standout track here ‘Signs’ -an absolutely gorgeous slab of ornate pop with whispered vocals and delicious string work. ‘Pennylands’ too is a quiet treat, singers Hannah Peel and Erland Cooper tend to sing together which provides a lovely gloopy vocal sound and when you add in horns and strings it sounds extremely lush on your ears. Taking the album as a whole though I feel that Magnetic North’s ideas are better than their execution, the music needs more of an edge to get really into the heart of the matter - ‘Little Jerusalem’ is like an acoustic Dubstar for example and their polished approach tends to put too much gloss over any grim reflections of the town. As much as I like the idea (and a few of the songs) the record sometimes feels like a sweet orch folk album with a great idea attached rather than an overall work to truly reflect a forgotten Northern town in the grip of economic downturns.
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