I’ve been listening to the new I Am Kloot album, Let It All In. Over the past decade, through a sometimes confusing history of downloads, limited releases and label changes, they’ve produced some of the most subtle and sublime alternative popular music to emanate from these islands in the twenty first century, with every album housing a fistful of classic songs shot through with smouldering basslines (literally, when Jobson uses the guitar head as a cigarette holder), biting lyrics and understated rhythms. This album’s travelled with me in the car for the last week while I’ve given it a bit of a road test: Carlisle, Leeds, Chester, Nottingham, so it’s already clocked up about eight hours of playing time and several hundred miles. I’ve also tested it in the kitchen, the garden, my study, the living room, the bedroom…. I’ve tested it happy, sad, tired, wide awake, sober and drunk. A couple of nights ago I put it on while a few friends were sitting around chatting. A bit naughty, given that it’s under a strict embargo, but without asking who it was I noticed toes tapping, heads nodding, even one person singing along to the looped ending of “These Days,” which she’d never heard before. And that’s always been an I Am Kloot trademark – there’s something familiar and immediate about the sound they make, so much so that even a new song can find a place in the memory vault, even before it’s finished playing, as if we’d been listening to it for years.
In the tradition of the Beatles or the Kinks, I Am Kloot are classic British song-makers. Their songs are sketches or stories from kitchen sink lives, given a five-star treatment by the irregular triangle of Bramwell, Jobson and Hargreaves. They deal in the fundamentals: memorable words, counter-pointing verses and choruses, satisfying chord changes, hummable harmonies and measured beats, but it’s the intensity and desire that sets them apart, a tangible physicality of feeling and sound. They turn out the kind of songs which could easily be given the full philharmonic treatment at the Albert Hall but would sit just as comfortably in the hands of a Deansgate busker with a five-string guitar and a pair of symbols between his knees. Tonight I’ve brought I Am Kloot, via iPod and earplugs, to a hill on the Pennine watershed, with West Yorkshire behind me and the great plain of the north-west sprawled out in front, from Jodrell Bank to Winter Hill, from the Welsh Hills to the Blackpool Tower. Understand this: I don’t bring just anyone up here. This is a private place, where I come to write, sulk, daydream, scheme, make decisions and sit in judgement, and tonight, the second Sunday in September, with the sun disappearing into the Atlantic and probably drowning the summer with it, I’m listening to Let It All In. It’s like a huge outdoor concert being played for my benefit only. And it makes for a really glorious forty or so minutes. A soundtrack of sorts, but not background music by any means, more like the score to the film of an inner life, a personal and intimate occasion. That’s how I experience this album, with its greater range and ambition, its wider appeal, its smoother transitions, its horns, strings, choirs, but also the questioning darkness and troubling depths we’ve come to expect. From the opening credits of Bullets, to the dream sequence of the title track, to the sad cabaret solo of Hold Back The Night, the fight scene of Mouth On Me (more of a slanging match than actual fisticuffs), the monochrome flashback scene of Shoeless, the making-up scene of Even The Stars, the down-at-heel-hands-in-pockets-walking-in-the-park-tracking-shot of Masquerade, the slow motion car-chase of Some Better Day, (not real grown up cars, being I Am Kloot: stolen shopping trolleys, maybe, or dodgems), the premature happy ending of These Days Are Mine, and the long, lingering finale of Forgive Me These Reminders, its plaintive refrain diminishing to eventual silence while the credits rolland the loose end of the film flaps in the projector reel and you make your way out of the fire exit onto a cold dark side-street. That’s how I hear this record, that’s how I see it in my mind’s eye. It’s night-time nearly so I’d best be heading home, the west all streetlights and headlights and stars, the path down to my village uncertain. Like I say, I don’t bring justanyone up here, so in that sense, they’re honoured. But the privilege, I must admit, is all mine. They can come again.