The Occasional Keepers \ True North [LTMCD 2511]
The Occasional Keepers is an ongoing studio collaboration between songwriters Bobby Wratten (Field Mice, Trembling Blue Stars) and Carolyn Allen and Caesar (The Wake).
Their second album True North was recorded and produced by the Keepers with Ian Catt (St Etienne) in London in February 2008. Guest musician Beth Arzy (Aberdeen, Trembling Blue Stars) features on The Life Of The Fields. Retaining plenty of acoustic, reflective elements from the previous album, this release adds experimental, song-based pop touches to great effect.
1. If The Ravens Leave
2. The Cricket Laced Midnight
3. Town Of 85 Lights
4. Leave the Secret There Forever
5. The Life of the Fields
6. Factory Records
7. I've Realized
8. Snow and Feathers
10. A Distant Piano on a Foggy Night
Available on CD and download.
"In the last twenty years lots of fads & fashions have had a dalliance with generations of indie kids but the purity of soul on offer from The Occasional Keepers new album is even greater than I can recall back then. This is Bobby's collaboration with Caesar and Carolyn from Scots legends The Wake who were the fragile Northern siblings of New Order on Factory. So I can truly say this second offering from them is a total gem. Without space to elaborate on individual tracks, all I can reveal is that it unfolds like a brittle flower, full of wistful synths, longing vocals, sweet guitars, purring bass lines & fantastic songs. Absolutely the perfect distillation of both bands, this is a more realized and satisfying listen than I could imagine, ranking alongside the best stuff from either band. Organic electronics combined with long patented touches make this a mature, melancholic masterwork. Mmm! LTM are doing the alternative community a great service in unearthing forgotten gems from this spectrum (which forms the flatbed of my musical heart!) and also pushing the sound forward with fresh treats such as this.....so they're a label with absolute mastery & pedigree in my eyes! So just buy this CD and melt" (Norman Records, 04/2008)
"Unsurprisingly it's luxurious pop all the way, varying in tempo from ambient to the gently giddy. Classier than any twee meeting of minds. If they get too earnest at points, the sharp heart that lurks in their poignant acoustics makes them one to keep" (Planet Sound (BBC Teletext), 04/2008)
"Very decent follow up to their 2005 debut. True North is far more immediate than its predecessor, with yes, a more New Order mid-80s manchester feel to the songs - not surprising at all, considering the imput of Caesar and Carolyn from Factory legends The Wake. If the Ravens Leave is an excellent opener, especially when they crash in the bass, while the final Bobby song (A Distant Piano on a Foggy Night) evokes experimental-era OMD, as Carolyn reads the shipping news over electonic static and beats. Great. As a whole, True North betters Empty Vessel, and the record is driven (as always) by Ian Catt`s excellent production. 4 out of 5" (Rate Your Music, 04/2008)
"Opening track If the Ravens Leave curls up in the hearth-warmed electronics and bedsit earnestness that have been the hallmarks of Wratten's groups, overseen here by Saint Etienne producer/multi-instrumentalist Ian Catt. Wratten murmuringly describes the birds' departure "beneath the moon's glow," as minimal guitar stabs, sustained synth chords, and programmed beats - accompanied eventually by chiming guitars and, later, a skeletal bass line - evoke a cozy intimacy. It's the middle of a long night, the middle of a long day, and the radio weather report butts up against the stereo's Stardust as Wratten envisions kingdoms falling. Twee is a humble kingdom, for sure, but one that has managed to quietly piss off hostile attackers for multiple generations of bands now" (Pitchfork, 05/2008)
"In their 1980's pomp both The Wake and The Field Mice made wistful innocent-sounding music which promised romance and melancholy in equal measure. So when members of both bands chose to collaborate in 2005, Bobby Wratten, Caesar and Caroline Allen duly delivered an album of music for sensitive souls. The follow-up is dispatched in much the same manner with a smattering of light electronica again bringing their style bang up to date. As an opening, If The Ravens Leave sums up all that was good about both bands; the happy/sad tune delivered in comforting tones. Town Of 85 Lights and I've Realized are essentially a return to The Wake circa 1990 when they moved from Factory to Sarah Records; their music becoming lighter. Not quite as light as the Allen-sung The Life Of The Fields, though, which is as tender as a snowflake. In a further nod to their pasts, there's time for an ambient/experimental homage to Factory Records, whilst Snow And Feathers has a definite Durutti Column feel. Yet the real highlight for me is Leave The Secret There Forever - everything about it is subtle and beautiful, from the insistent bass and the light guitar jangle to the shimmering keyboards and Wratten's confiding vocals. It beats the similarly dreamlike Elsinore in to a close second. Taken as a whole, True North stays true to the musicians' pasts and proves that - even though they've embraced modern production techniques - their music can still be heartfelt and touching" (Leonard's Lair, 05/2008)
"Having made a lovely splash with their debut The Beauty of the Empty Vessel, the Occasional Keepers return with True North, showing that what might have initially seemed like a one-off now appears to be a regular concern. With an unchanged lineup from before - Bobby Wratten, Caesar and Carolyn Allen, plus Beth Arzy on guest vocals and Ian Catt handling all production and engineering - the trio's ten songs on True North follow pretty directly in the vein of the debut. It's a bit simplistic to say that any indie-pop/Sarah Records freak will automatically love this album, perhaps, but it's a bit hard to hear how they couldn't; if all participants involved aren't going to produce anything surprising at this stage of the game, there's an elegant, perfect detail to the whole album that makes it a straightforward continuation of where they've been. Opening track If the Ravens Leave, perhaps referring to the legend about said birds who live in the Tower of London, sets the tone of understated and contemplative melodies and speak-singing, and from there it's a basic but beautifully effective formula of soft but precise beats, calm electric guitars and background textures supporting everything else. What ultimately makes this all work so well, though, is the way that tension is used - the sense of everything winding itself up to a breaking point on The Cricket Laced Midnight, Arzy's calm but still slightly forlorn sounding vocal turn on The Life of the Fields, a folky confection that works surprisingly well. Two of the most intriguing efforts: the stately drone hooks of Town of 85 Lights, which could almost be a tribute to Sonic Boom's style on the Spectrum album, and Factory Records, presumably a tribute to the legendary label as well as its deceased founder Tony Wilson, but done as an instrumental rather than a retrospective story, Caesar's melodica providing an elegaic air for the stately piece" (All Music Guide, 05/2008)
"If you drift north long enough, you'll get pretty cold, but then before you know it you'll start to feel warm again" (Pitchfork, 08/2008)