SlowPlaceLikeHome – Romola (Bluestack Records)

If you take a flick around these pages over the last couple of years, you'll find plenty of mention of SlowPlaceLikeHome (the search function will do it if you're stuck for time). I first heard the name in January 2012, having been tipped the wink by Albert of Plugd Records here in Cork. That was an EP, the enigmatically titled Coastal hubs for chivalry and I was immediately interested. Another two EPs followed over the following 18 months, each one a beguiling mixture of kosmische, folk and jazz tones, shoegaze and an element of the dreamier end of trip-hop. The debut album of SPLH was released a few weeks ago and here's a review of it I wrote for WeAreNoise (a couple of minor edits since original publication). Suffice to say the album is highly recommended.

It’s great to finally see and hear the self-produced debut album by SlowPlaceLikeHome, aka Keith Mannion from Donegal, following a series of each-one-better-than-the-one-before EPs over the last two years.

Those EPs set the bar high for (not just Irish) electronica, combining elements of folk, jazz and shoegaze with a genuine arranger’s ear. Mannion has remarked that the album marks a departure from his earlier work, although you can still spot threads which have been taken on and developed in the longer format.

The first two singles from the album have that beguiling mix, pop fans – irresistible, wireless-bothering hooks aplenty, but bursting with ideas and creative arrangements not often heard from lowest-common-denominator radio.

In the case of ‘She comes in colour stereo’ it’s the thrumming bassline that usually gets me (the “woo” backing vocal and handclaps come a close second). ‘Luna’, on the other hand, twinkles and pitter-patters insidiously, while an octave vocal layer brings an extra touch of class.

Elsewhere, the album takes time to stretch its legs and unfurl a series of gorgeous melodies with percussive, clicking backbeats in support. The semi-instrumental kosmische of ‘Set fire to the stars’ recalls the earlier There go the lights again EP, with a beautiful, pastoral quality in among the bleeps and squiggles.

‘Autumn’s children’ has a weightier low end drone anchoring a set of glistening guitar and synth patterns, like the deep sea drawing down shards of sunlight from above.

One of the (pleasant) surprises of the album is the clarity and upfront treatment of the more than occasional vocals. The singing on ‘Romola (Parts 1 & 2)’ is reminscient of Matt Johnson from The The – the musical backing has a similar pre-trip hop feel, a kind of slowed down, drugged and shimmering soul music.

‘Perfumed (with life’s imperfections)’ comes on like a sweaty jam-room session (perhaps involving Can from around 1975), with a deadpan vocal holding gravitas, while bursts of distortion cut in on angelic synth shapes, and a deliciously warped mid-section wig-out drags you to the dancefloor.

Meanwhile, ‘Dear Diary’ is like a Northern Soul tune deconstructed and gloriously adorned with parping faux-trumpet and Orange Juice guitar jangle. ‘Cesare’s Principle’ closes the album in a blissful instrumental haze.

Throughout, the arrangements are smart, the production warm and the tunes are king.

Organic and soulful, this is a brilliant debut album from an already startlingly accomplished artist.


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