I’ve seen Manchester’s I Am Kloot twice in my life.
The gig count’s hardly unusual for a live musicker like me – which, thanks to my Dad’s life long determination to make me rabidly musically curious, has had me crushed at The Killers, intoxicated at James and less than mystified at Julian Cope’s pagan altar.
But the following is. I’d left it almost a decade before seeing them a second time.
So why the lapse? After a bit of wandering and head-shaking, I decided today was the day to Figure It Out, using a simple game of compare and contrast. Yes, I have just listened to 2003’s I AM KLOOT and the band’s latest Let It All In back-to-back, to figure out what the hell happened.
First off then, to the self-titled, matt monochrome record of 2003 – I AM KLOOT.
The gig had been back in the days before Guy Garvey elbowed in. Before Sky At Night’s Mercury Prize nomination gave the nod to their worth. When the venue played by the Manchester three-piece was Birmingham’s sticky, beloved Carling, and not the blast-air conditioned O2 Academy, and in a dim and cramped side room that must have felt tauntingly out of the reach of the main pit below.
A creak of the wardrobe reminds me that I did go there and get the T-shirt after all, and the album. And I never have the money for merch, so I must have meant it, but in truth, ’til today, I hadn’t listened to the record since.
Now rectified, I’ve come to the following conclusions:
The millennial I AM KLOOT rings part lo-fi existential crisis – “Could you stand me another drink/ I’m better when I don’t think/ seems to get me through” – part dreamscape (Read “Mermaids”), with up-beat flashes (“3 Feet Tall” as a case in point, though buried at track 11 of 12). To a girl of fifteen the whole package probably felt a bit too hopelessly soul-scraping and melancholic, especially to one who’d accidentally veered into pseudo-gothic territory.
But now I appreciate the blues of “A Strange Arrangement of Colour”; I can hear how a faster-tempo “Sold As Seen” could’ve been the precursor to Oasis’s “The Importance of Being Idle”. For me though, now and back then, it belongs to a darkened room; a letter from a sinking, disenchanted man. Like a stiff drink, best taken in bright spirits.
Fast forward ten years then to Sunday night’s candlelit Warwick Arts Centre, 2013. A mellowed out crowd, at times too unnervingly zen I think for frontman John Bramwell, for the last night of Kloot’s latest tour, parading another Guy Garvey-produced wonder, 2012’s Let It All In.
There, united with Bramwell’s slight bemusement that everyone was just happy sat, it just clicked.
Straight into it then today, I stuck Let It All In into the player straight after I AM KLOOT. And after some pensive pen tapping, I think this is wot won it for me.
In overview, LIAI is subtler and richer: less clamouring light versus shade than I AM KLOOT’s black and white. I think Garvey’s touch has been to help Bramwell and co draw out what really makes Kloot’s, and Elbow’s, music – bittersweet observation, to bittersweet music – more effectively.
What really makes it for me though is that the instrumental is more layered, which live is really noticeable, balancing out Bramwell’s acerbic tones – I say acerbic, but remove if you can the negative connotations of the word.
The only way I can think to describe it is like a burst of citrus cutting clean through some sweet dessert. What I mean to say is that Bramwell was crying out for stronger backing for his one hell of a powerful voice.
Opening “Bullets” is brilliant – a proper folk ballad about the “masked vigilante” of love/ imperfect relationships. “Let Them All In” sweetly accepts how imperfectly life goes, while “Mouth On Me” has learned some lessons from Elbow’s “Weather To Fly”. And on it goes, altogether more melodic; there’s a trumpet!; I listened to “Shoeless” four times over. All in all, Let It All In does greater justice to Bramwell’s outlook, which isn’t all smack-me-over-the-head nihilism after all. Just listen to “These Days Are Mine”.
To conclude then, scant musical maths this exercise may’ve been, but well, it’s done the trick.
I’m sorry for my ten-year remissness, I Am Kloot. Couldn’t happen again if I tried.