At this current time there is not a better independent record label in the UK than Bella Union. Over the years the sheer number of artists that have emerged from their warm bosom with staggeringly beautiful albums has been nothing short of remarkable. Affording artists from a wide variety of genres the freedom to express themselves as they wish has been refreshing, and the results of such freedom of expression have often been some of the best independent music released in the UK for the last few years. The roll-call of artists that are currently fostered by the label read like a who’s who in the indie, folk, alternative pop, and singer/songwriter world. The likes of The Low Anthem, Fleet Foxes, John Grant, Laura Veirs, The Kissaway Trail, Explosions In The Sky, and Midlake have all released some of the most successful and widely revered independent albums in the last 5 years. This has been backed up by their inclusions in numerous end of year album lists, that are shoved in our faces around this time each year by every music publication going. Lanterns On The Lake are another band that are keeping Bella Unions stellar reputation at the forefront of the British Independent music scene with the release of their first full length album ‘Gracious Tide, Take Me Home’.
Formed in Newcastle-Upon-Tyne five years ago, their sweepingly orchestral brand of indie-folk is a thing of stunning beauty. Having released two EP’s over the last couple of years in the lead up to this full album release, they gave a good taster as to what was to come on what is a compelling and beautiful debut.
The album opens with subtle piano and strings, laced with glitchy electronica beats, as lead singer Hazel Wilde’s spectral voice glides in and out of an increasingly addictive melodic refrain, which builds gradually with glockenspiel, rousing strings, and ghostly voices as ‘Lungs Quicken’ sets the albums wintry tone. As fellow vocalist Adam Sykes appears on second number ‘If I’ve Been Unkind’ the bands wonderful way with emotionally charged musical soundscapes really shines. The strings are prominent as they sweep around pretty acoustic guitars, piano, and mournful vocals, as once again the band are able to gradually build the song up towards the heavens with chiming guitars and stormy percussion. Already you can hear certain elements of Sigur Ros’ epic capabilities within their music, but rather than drawing the music out, they manage to condense it all into less than 5 minutes.
The album continues to offer spellbinding melodies with ‘Keep On Trying’s’ laid back yet beautiful vocals, against a backdrop of gorgeously atmospheric instrumentation. Guitarist Paul Gregory who oversaw production duties on this album really captures everything perfectly and resists the urge to throw the kitchen sink at the production, instead choosing to gradually build these songs up with deeply woven melodies and reigning everything back in at just the right point. If this is his first time producing, then he may well become a familiar name based on what he has done with this album.
A more sparse arrangement features on ‘Ships In The Rain’ where just Hazel Wilde’s whispering voice features over the faintest of backings from a single violin and ghostly voices, as she sings some of the most affecting lyrics on the album about a sailor lost out at sea. “My body’s an anchor I’m lost to the sea, I look to the stars as the waves cover me, Its a beautiful night to behold, the most beautiful i’ve ever known, Ships in the rain i’ll see you again. “Whistles are blowing, they’re looking for me, like an orchestra playing as I sink to the deep, but this cold black ocean will know that this sailor will never come home, ships in the rain, i’ll see you again”
It is the shortest song on the album lasting only two minutes, yet it is also one of the most memorable and emotionally affecting songs on an album not short on heart-stirring moments.
The more upbeat and poppy sounding ‘A Kingdom’ rushes along over an urgent, shuffling rhythm with joyful violins and country-esque slide guitars, gorgeously drenched in reverb as the band push the button marked “Epic” as the song reaches it rousing finale.
The quality just does not let up as the cinematic ’The Place We Call Home’ glides over more subtle electronica beats, coupled with a simple glockenspiel and piano refrain, with one of the best string arrangements on the album. This is followed swiftly by the equally impressive ‘Blanket Of Leaves’ as Wilde’s soft vocals effortlessly guide the song as it ebbs and flows.
By this point in the album, if you have been captivated by everything that has come before, the rest of the album carries you along much like the band name suggests. Never has a band name so perfectly captured their sound better than Lanterns On The Lake.
This album is another gem in Bella Union’s increasingly impressive stockpile. It is not an album that you can just have playing in the background whilst doing the cooking or housework. It is an album to immerse yourself into in a quiet room, giving it your full attention and just letting the music wash over you with a good set of headphones or a decent sound system. Do not even think about listening to it on a laptop! With each listen it reveals more and more moments of brilliance, and it is a perfect winter album for listening to in front of an open fire, yet equally at home listening whilst trudging through fields of snow on a bright winters morning. A truly spellbinding album, that needs to be heard.