Album review: Harkin by Katie Harkin

Leeds musical treasure Katie Harkin is preparing to add her latest, eponymous solo project to a résumé already laden with brilliant accomplishments.

In addition to heading her successful project Sky Larkin, which produced three impressive studio albums between 2009 and 2014, she has joined the touring bands of Courtney Barnett and Sleater Kinney, and collaborated with Waxahatchee.

A talented multi-instrumentalist and songwriter herself, Harkin is joined on her new album by the Australian percussive powerhouse Stella Mozgawa, who plays the drums in LA-based indie rock group Warpaint, while Jenn Wasner, touring member of Bon Iver, and founding member of Wye Oak takes on bass duties.

When I saw Harkin open for Sleater Kinney in February, these two had been replaced for the tour by Lena Simon, and Glenn Van Dyke, who acquitted themselves well.

This album is noticeably more contemplative than much of Harkin’s work with Sky Larkin, and tends to foreground slower, more thoughtful, and less raucous tracks than the upbeat pop tracks that Harkin has been known for in the past.

You may know her for such songs as Sky Larkin’s Antibodies, and Fossil, I, which heavily feature primary chords and upbeat rhythms.

One of the features common to the old Sky Larkin singles and the new Harkin album is Harkin’s keen attachment to the more inoffensive discords which arise from suspensions and seventh chords.

Although Harkin’s guitar playing frequently admits of a studied messiness befitting a punk guitarist, she is plainly more than talented enough to know the theory that makes the album an uncomfortable listening experience.

Riffs often culminate with a suspension in lieu of a resolution, making her work inherently difficult to listen to on a certain level. She defies the listener’s expectations in subtle ways as frequently as possible, meaning that even her poppier material is still oddly alienating. That doesn’t make any of her songs unlistenable: on the contrary.

One major change for the new album from her Sky Larkin work is her new tendency to write songs which follow a binary structure, focussing on two alternating central themes that are subtly developed throughout the song.

Opening track and album highlight Mist on Glass begins with a pair of teasing riffs over an oddly disco backing, representing the most danceable song on the LP.

Although the concept of an LP filled with songs that structurally tend to mirror each other fairly closely, there are plenty of changes in tone to keep things interesting.

Bristling foregrounds a climbing bass line as the central layer of the composition, picking out unusual intervals and creating an uneasy atmosphere, while the guitar plays a pared back role.

Red Virginia Creeper is significantly slower than the rest of the album, and features a synthesiser more prominently than in other tracks on the album, which again, emphasises especially odd notes, which, combined with a lilting, stuttering pace, makes this the most unconventional song on the album.

As always, precise and impressive instrumental performances make room for interesting lyrical compositions and make for an LP that leaves little to be desired.

Katie Harkin described the album as an homage to growing up in the North West of England and wrote all the songs in the Peak District, to the south and east of Manchester.

With her angular and imposing arrangements, she has captured the beautiful and the sublime sides of a particularly pleasant and untameable area of the North.

This album will richly reward your attentions when it comes out next month on April 24, and as a band that is unlikely to be able to benefit from continuing to play live shows, I’m sure that the band would appreciate your custom even more than usual in these trying times.

Rating: 4/5

Album highlights: Mist on Glass, Nothing the Night Can’t Change, New France.

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