Lightning In A Twilight Hour "And All The Ships At Sea" (Elefant)

Nothing warms the heart more than seeing those four words: "Written by Robert Wratten".

Not that it would really matter if you missed them (tiny font in the centre of bright white 12" vinyl), because your ears may just connect the easy, poppy rhythms of "The Sky Beyond The Sky" with the breezier numbers on "Her Handwriting"; or the autumnal swirl and roving basslines of "Black Circles" with the splendid "Dark Eyes", the song that first reunited Messrs Wratten and Hiscock (there’s something almost unrepentantly Field Mice-esque in the weave of climbing bass, simple drum machine and clanging rhythm guitar); or the gently unfolding Cure-ish majesty of "Krzysztof Kieślowski's Lullaby" and its Peter Hook bass runs with the five-piece Blue Stars' moodily gothic "With Every Story".

Seasoned Wratten-watchers will glean from this that there's none of the liberating, lyrical directness of the first half of "Slow Changes", none of the free-form escapism of the second half of the same record and little of the ambient, achingly splendid field-recorded vistas that were the highlights of "Fragments Of A Former Moon". Instead, you 'only' get... well, an object lesson in smooth, sophisticated, mournful, full-on grown-up pop genius. “Beauty still gets through”, sings Bobby, and in his hands it does, it really does.

And that's just side A. To be fair, when the curtain comes up after the interval, the grooves of side B feel marginally less compelling, yielding 18+ carefully textured minutes of what's effectively a three-song medley (a woozy brace of ballads bookending the extended soundscape of "Lenticular" that tip the collective LIATH hat towards the eliding songscapes of Northern Picture Library), but, as the cliché goes, "you had me at hello", and we were already sold not just by half-time, but - courtesy of the minimal yet fabulous Elefant sleeve art and design, and of course by those four words - before even sticking the record on.

Long may he reign over us.


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