Mercury Prize shortlist nominees (number: 2010)
In Klootworld, even the pub is world-weary - it's called the Brink. And the Manchester trio have been propping up the bar for too long now. A decade, in fact, for the best-kept secret Up North since Elbow threw off the shackles of public apathy. It's not been all frustrating, though; Germany loves them. Though the idea that the good folk of, say, Dusseldorf, prefer Kloot's gruff, nail-bitten and quintessentially Northern song more than the British isn't just bizarre, it's alarming.
Can the trio's fifth album, Sky at Night, change things? Guy Garvey, who produced Kloot's 2001 debut album Natural History, returns to do the honours again, assisted by his Elbow bandmate Craig Potter, so fame by association could rub off. Proof, from 2003's I Am Kloot, also returns, albeit re-recorded (though you'd never know), most likely because it was never official released as a single back then, despite a promo video starring Christopher Eccleston. The opening Northern Skies, however, is the new single, with another Eccleston cameo in the video. Fame by association again?
Clearly, frontman John Bramwell isn't a man for turning. Sky at Night simply distils and expands all Kloot's lovely strengths, from his taut, elegant tunes to resolutely bittersweet lyrics. "See the sand, the moon, the stars that shine a light and say / Well, they'll do alright for me," goes Northern Skies, but if Bramwell sometimes flirts with soap-opera sentiment, just like Garvey, you instinctively trust the sound of his expressive, swarthy croon.
So it's business as usual, but even at this 10-years-plus juncture, Kloot still scale the heights, especially the ballads. The Moon Is a Blind Eye is as pale and silvery as moonlight, I Still Do is equally bare and heart-wrenching, and To the Brink (the aforementioned boozer, where, "there's no rule of thumb, so on the counter I strum with my fingers / and I adore the surprise of tomorrow's sunrise, so I linger") has thin, weaving strings that lend a wistful 1940s charm - you can almost taste the cig smoke and amber ale. But Kloot can kick up the dust, too. Radiation's suspenseful intro gives way to see-sawing strings and a blast of euphoria to rival Elbow's One Day Like This, while soul-blues slowburner Lately features Garvey on gusty harmonies.
Really, if this lot can't boost Kloot's fortunes at home, they should give up or just move to Dusseldorf, whichever is less traumatic.