The Magnetic North – The Prospect Of Skelmersdale – new album review

The Magnetic North

I don’t write many album reviews as a rule. Firstly, everyone’s at it. Secondly, I’m a total amateur. Thirdly, this blog tends to be more about sharing bits of art, new music videos and daft bits and bobs I spot online. But every once in awhile an album will come out, slightly under the radar, jam-packed with great ideas and cracking tunes, and I have no other choice than to write about it and share my thoughts.

The Prospect Of Skelmersdale by The Magnetic North (who describe themselves as ‘an occasional musical partnership‘ as opposed to a band or ‘side project’) is one such album. There’s been no huge fanfair and I only found out about the band/partnership after a late night YouTube recommendation sent me the way of their new LP’s excellent first single, A Death In The Woods.

The Magnetic North‘s three members are Erland Cooper, Simon Tong & Hannah Peel, and The Prospect Of Skelmersdale is an album inspired by Ex-Verve member, Tong‘s childhood, the town’s urban landscape, the lives of its inhabitants and literary works such as Ken Loach’s Kes and Ted Hughes’ 1979 poetry collection, Remains of Elmet. It’s pitched as a project sat somewhere between, “finely tuned kitchen sink drama and urban psychogeography“, and shines a light on the town’s history, how it was designated as a “new town” in 1961 and it’s status in the early ’80s as the official UK home of the Transcendental Meditation movement.

The Prospect Of Skelmersdale is a must listen for fans of acts like Sufjan Stevens, Joanna Newsom, Andrew Bird, Kings Of Convenience and Iron & Wine. The whole album is awash with beautiful melodies, swelling orchestrations and a warmth and charm that draws you in and makes you fall in love with it.

It’s a proper album too. It’s got a concept, stories to tell, ideas to share, and the songs undoubtedly work best when listened to as a whole.

The album is peppered with archive snippets of news stories and “dim lit memories” that gel things together and help tell a fascinating story. It’s easy to see the album as a set of chapters or tales, all centred around Skelmersdale, Lancashire. Some of the songs are bathed in optimism and hope, others are soaked in melancholy, doubt and sadness and the contrasting elements sit perfectly alongside each other. The craftsmanship and musical chops on show are inescapable too.

There’s a magic at play in The Prospect Of Skelmersdale that’s hypnotic and beguiling. I can’t recommend it enough. It deserves a wide audience and is an album I know a lot of my muso mates are going to enjoy listening to.

You can download a copy of The Prospect Of Skelmersdale here for £7

The Magnetic North have a London show coming up on the 14th April at The Forge in Camden Town. Details and tickets are available here.

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