It’s been a crazy couple of years for Katie Harkin and Sky Larkin. A two year break, travel through 28 countries, line up change, and dalliances with other bands, including local Leeds pals Wild Beasts and Menace Beach. But it’s not these that influence new, and third, album Motto, released on Wichita, but rather an all-pervading sense of loss and love. Clearly battered and bruised, rather than cover those wounds with plasters they are here for all to hear, but, to use trite similes, more in a ‘what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger sense’ than that of ‘woe is me.’ Harkin has gone on record to say that the album is very much ‘about presence after loss,’ and sad circumstances that have gone on to inspire a record that is ‘pop on the surface with a darkness that the casual listener might not pick up on.’ She doesn’t do listeners justice, or underestimates the roar with which herself, Nile Marr, Sam Pryor and Nester Matthews deliver, and even the most casual listener will hear the angst and anger in this possessed and thunderous collection of tracks.
In many ways this is more of the same, but better. Since their formation in 2005, Sky Larkin have been a band of toiling bass lines, agitated riffs, seething vocals and hyperventilating discharges of drums. Opener Motto, and its matter of fact take on recent experiences, ‘I saw what I saw, saw what I saw/Did what I did’ is full of the trademark slashes of guitar, satisfying and invigorating, a grittier follow up to first single Loom where Katy’s cooing, winsome vocals beguiled the restless dynamism that it and the band thrives on.
On The Loyal Beat Katie is defiant in the presence of troubles, getting on with things the hard way as she repeats ‘there is no map for this, there is only surprise.’ The penultimate track Italics goes as dancey as Sky Larkin get, the strong rhythms that underpin the album going giddy, taking the punchy defiance to the dancefloor. Carve It Out is full of poppy melodies, whilst Frozen Summer bristles like an unexpected cold weekend, the revolving opening chords gently pummelling away before the trippier and trippier ‘summer of soul’ and the ‘big change’ it promises.
Even in the more laidback moments you are never far away from a brimming sense of impetuous and impassioned exhilaration about to break out. Overgrown is one such track, and there is the sense that the ‘horrid accident’ that she sings of must be forgotten, but never can be, threatening to kick back at any moment. Tarn is one of the more poignant moments caused by the ‘love on the radio’ that reminds of past ‘love from before’, but recognition that she has ‘dreams in my life’ that she must get on with – and excel at.
Simple scales are used to vibrant and wondrous effect, the potent cocktail of hammer like riffs and dazzling lyrics assassinating any resistance. Resistance that you would be foolish to even consider. ‘Can we carve it out/A life in the shape I care about?’ Katy asks. If anyone can carve out the future they want, it is Sky Larkin.