As Steve Wynn of the Dream Syndicate said:
It just goes to show how wrong you can be
It happens from time to time. You buy the LP and pop it on and are underwhelmed. It passes you by but doesn’t irritate you. It is probably less so in these streaming days when everything can be heard before buying – no more caveat emptor.
The Lost Horizons album turned up in the post. It was a thing of beauty with a die cut sleeve with a gorgeous inner sleeve, one LP in blue, one in silver. I popped it on the record deck and it listened. It was pleasant enough, melodic and quite pretty but no initial emotional response. I put it on the iPhone and listened to it on my commute – no real further engagement. Rough Trade hosted an instore for the band. They were capable but a little bit nervous, understandable given that they’d only played a couple of gigs. It was a pleasant way to spend an hour after work but not transformative.
The next day I listened again on the way to work and everything clicked. Isn’t that often the way that seeing and hearing songs in a live environment brings them into sharper focus? Since then I’ve been playing it to death and it has really got under my skin. It also follows Ghostpoet and This Is The Kit‘s latest efforts as 2017 family favourites.
Lost Horizon’s are Simon Raymonde and Richie Thomas with a host of guest artists and singers in particular. They are ex-4AD alumni, members of the Cocteau Twins and Dif Juz respectively. Raymonde has taken a break from music making in recent years running the successful Bella Union label, home to an increasingly wide stable of artists such as the Flaming Lips and John Grant. Bella Union were celebrating their 20th birthday and it dawned on Raymonde that he was missing making music and hadn’t properly moved on (or even grieved in his words) from the end of the Cocteau Twins in 1997. He was self aware enough to know that if the muse came back it would be conditional upon the following, according according to recent interview on the Collide website:
i) That Richie would be the drummer and the band would really just be me and him. I would probably deny being a control freak if accused of it, but I accept that for this, I am sure I can plead guilty,
ii) It could only ever be fun. If it wasn’t we had to stop.
iii) If we never recorded anything it didn’t matter.
iv) There would be no talk of a ‘record’, no talk of ‘a band’ and we just must wholly enjoy it and the second we didn’t like something we had to say.
So on the morning that David Bowie died, Raymonde and Thomas entered a studio and started the creative process. They actually created mournful piece with a Bowie-esque sax solo that day called “On The Day You Died” which appears on the Rough Trade bonus CD.
As time went on more musicians joined the process, primarily vocalists. Some are signed to Bella Union, such as Marissa Nadler, Karen Peris of the Innocence Mission, former Midlake frontman Tim Smith, Cameron Neal (Horse Thief), others are long-time favourites of Raymonde’s (Liela Moss of The Duke Spirit and the afore mentioned Ghostpoet), or newer discoveries (Beth Cannon, Hilang Child, (both of whom appeared at the Rough Trade in store) Gemma Dunleavy and Phil McDonnell).
This feels like an update of the 4AD This Mortal Coil Project. It opens with the vocal acrobatics of Beth Cannon on the soulful “Bones” before the beautiful “The Places We’ve Been”. Innocence Mission’s Karen Peris lends the song an almost Christmas carol feel. “Amber Sky” has a very Cocteau-ish melody line running through it. One could imagine Liz Fraser taking flight over it.
The emotional “Asphyxia” is followed by one of my personal highlights, Ghostpoet’s “Reckless”. 2017 has turned into some year for Obar Ejimiwe. He’s just finished touring “Dark Days and Canapes”, which I have not stopped playing since it was released in August. He’s set his own radio station up in Margate via crowdfunding and it was from here that he added his vocals to the Lost Horizon’s demo. It very much fits in with the vibe of his own work but with a slightly less electronic backing.
We then get another stand-out. “She Led Me Away” features the elusive Tim Smith, previously of Midlake. They’ve been signed to Raymonde’s Bella Union album and we’d seen them perform a memorable set with Paul Weller as a guest at the label’s tenth birthday celebrations at the Royal Festival Hall. The pastoral song is very much cut from the same cloth as the earlier acoustic material of his former band.
Phil McDonnell’s “The Tide” is a rolling sea shanty featuring his baritone which keeps threatening to break upwards into the great Billy McKenzie’s register. After earlier performing “Asphyxia”, Gemma Dunleavy returns for the sensual “Give Your Heart Away”. Cameron Neal’s “Life Inside A Paradox” was the first track to emerge a 7″ and is probably the most upbeat of the Ojala tracks.
The album winds down with the fragile “Winter Approaching” and “Stampede” which really could have lived comfortably on This Mortal Coil’s “It’ll End In Tears”.
The album is well and truly a grower and we’ve been listening to it a great deal over the late month as the autumn weather turns to winter.
The band have just toured the LP with selection of the singers from the record covering the remainder of the tracks. They’ve got plans to keep going and will be worth keeping an eye out for.