Sky Larkin – Motto Album Review

Sky Larkin will release their brand new album Motto on September 16. The album shares its name with the opening track which was released to acclaim online earlier this summer. Recorded with long-term collaborator, producer John Goodmanson (Girls, Sleater Kinney, Los Campesinos!) in Seattle, the album is a distillation of all that makes Sky Larkin great.

Written for the most part while Katie Harkin was on the road playing in Wild Beasts, its varied themes and moods reflect the experience of performing in 28 countries in 20 months, a journey that became the record’s foundation. Motto, the name itself chosen on the second day of the Wild Beasts tour, is a wide and swerving album venturing themes through love, loss, the band’s Yorkshire home, seasons and lobotomies and much more beyond.

Through all its themes and moods, Motto showcases Sky Larkin’s unshakable ability to conjure immediately satisfying, vibrant indie rock. Harkin explains: “I’ve always wanted our records to be immediate at their most accessible and at their most expansive, inhabitable. I really wanted to make something beautiful that wasn’t also permissive.”

Now well established in the indie rock world, Sky Larkin formed in 2005 with school friends Katie Harkin and Nestor Matthews. After spending their early days earning their stripes appearing alongside bands such as Los Campesinos!, The Organ, Gossip, Architecture In Helsinki and Wild Beasts, the band caught the attention of Wichita Recordings and subsequently released debut album, The Golden Spike, to much acclaim in 2009. Between then and the release of their second record Kaleide, they have toured throughout the world, headlining and sharing stages with the likes of Stereolab, Broken Social Scene, Conor Oberst, and The Cribs.

Since the release of their second album Kaleide in August 2010 and subsequent touring with the likes of Les Savy Fav, Cloud Nothings, Best Coast and Frightened Rabbit, the band took a hiatus. Singer and guitarist Katie Harkin joined fellow northerners Wild Beasts an as extra live band member to accommodate the expansive sound of Smother touring through 2011 and 2012 while drummer, Nestor Matthews, sat behind the kit to record with Menace Beach and Giant Fang. Alongside the talents of musicians Nile Marr (AKA Man Made) and Sam Pryor (of These Monsters), Sky Larkin spent this past winter writing a new record in Yorkshire before taking themselves to Seattle to record their third album, Motto. The results promise to be the defining Sky Larkin album.

And Motto is just that. It’s a fantastic indie rock album that will have you wanting to blast it out over and over again. You’ll want to show it off to your friends, to strangers, to anyone as if its your own achievement. This Yorkshire band have an indie sound so distinctive. They don’t sound English, Northern, American – they are their own thing. Harkin’ vocals are soft, loud, explosive and emotional all at the same time. It’s a rollercoaster of a ride.

The first track Motto seeps in with a gentle yet haunting guitar riff before the bass and symbals come into play. After their gradually introductions, the song explodes into a wonderful array of melodies and beats. It’s a brilliant first track with Harkin’s vocals slightly drowned out by the heavier rock riffs, allowing listeners to become engrossed in the song’s rhythms. It also means Harkin is left fighting for the centre of attentions lending her vocals to sound strong and infused with emotion.

Newsworthy, the album’s second track, is one of the strongest songs on the record. The lyrics are instantly catchy and cleverly constructed, “Darling I’m drowning/The cacophony is coming for me/There’s no such thing as disembodied intimacy/So when you’re into me…Sucker punch me with something newsworthy”. There is something about these lyrics that will keep you coming back for more. Having female vocals singing, “Sucker punch me with something newsworthy…” is unexpected which is what makes it so great to hear. Harkin’s vocals are powerful yet feminine in this song suiting the lyrics, music and attitude of the song perfectly.

Sky Larkin

Sky Larkin

Treasury, Loom and Bravo Dodo are three tracks that stand out on Motto. Treasury starts softly with the lyrics, “As long as I have my memory/I will keep you in a treasury” sung over a backdrop of a gentle guitar riff and drumming rhythm. All of a sudden, the track kicks into action and is a delight from there.

Loom is Sky Larkin’s recent single release. The video, which was directed by Ashley Connor, is a beautifully shot clip that follows in the footsteps of the track leading the audience into a false sense of joyfulness. On closer inspection, singer Katie Harkin is exploring the themes of presence after loss, of carrying the memory of someone around in everything you do, “Loom/Loom/You’re always in the room/A personal ghoul…”

Harkin explains: “I knew that the inspiration for this song meant that it would the saddest on the record for me so I consciously attempted a fake-out with myself.

“I wanted it to be our Enola Gay, pop on the surface with a darkness that the casual listener might not pick up on. For me that’s one of the funniest things about songs: they can be powerful without being self-evident.”

Bravo Dodo is an anthemic track with Harkin’s vocals screaming at the beginning, “Bravo/Dodo”. The rolling drums after each verse lend a welcome, if short, interlude to help build tension which adds to the anthemic mood of Bravo Dodo.

From the first listen of Overgrown you will be instantly attached. It’s a solemn, dark number which conjures up images of foggy hillsides and disaster, “In the hills above Bradford/There was a horrid accident.” The chorus, “Hey hey what do you say/Does it hurt any more than the first time round?…” gradually transforms to “Hey hey what do you say/Does it get any better this time round?” as the track progresses. Overgrown is instantly pleasing from Harkin’s first note to the anti-climatic ending.

Motto is a refreshing indie rock album. Sky Larkin have produced a record that will stick with you. Every song has its own feel, its own aura. Motto allows each song to feel like those unreleased demos every band has, slightly raw but well worth the listen. It’s a well produced and mixed album lending it to sound unique in its style. It’s a brilliant indie rock album.

Motto will be released September 16.

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