Manchester’s I Am Kloot distinguish themselves from many of their more commercially successful English compatriots with a sharper focus on “the songs”—rather than “the bombast” and “the atmospheres” that can be used to surround or mask deficiencies in “the songs.” You can come to I Am Kloot without a lot of preconceived notions, not least because few people have actually heard of them. But the band don’t give you much besides the songs themselves; this album is packaged in the starkest black and white, with no lyrics or even a clear picture of the band. This might seem something of a cliché, or maybe naïïve, but it’s not that easy. There are no hipster overtones, no stupid haircuts, no keyboard players, and no back-story. And I won’t say that there’s just good, old-fashioned rock music, because it isn’t that easy, either.
Their first album, 2001’s Natural History, came a little out of nowhere, playing on your memories of pop with songs that felt familiar-ish and were sold on John Harold Arnold Bramwell’s singing—heavily accented, pushy but not too pushy. (He could do an uncanny Al Stewart.) Bramwell’s voice was pitted against the mostly acoustic guitars and splashy drums. I Am Kloot sounded bold, and even if they didn’t move your world, you knew they were good. They got you excited and it wasn’t hard to find at least two songs to carry in your head after the CD got filed. In particular, “To You” was as strong an album opener as you were likely to hear that year.
I Am Kloot, their second full-length, was originally released in Europe in 2003. It is just now seeing release in America to coincide with the opening of a US office of the Echo Label. Meanwhile, Kloot has a third album, Gods and Monsters ready to be released in Europe in April.
I Am Kloot comes off at once as more confident—and more self-conscious as a studio production. Opening with “Untitled #1”, they layer effects, guitars and piano in a way unheard on Natural History. It feels like a perfect progression. They come up with another particularly accessible song on “Life In A Day”, thought it’s not hard to imagine the song—echoed vocals and huge drums—as an effort to reach out to all those American Britpop kids who overlooked their first album. They get even dirtier with “Cuckoo”, a further expansion of the sound they created on their debut.
The album starts to get weighed down towards the end. “Proof” works, but “The Same Deep Water As Me” could be a Trembling Blue Stars song; the band have demonstrated that they’re capable of better. If the term didn’t sound so square, or it was 40 years earlier, you might call them tunesmiths. They seem more than able at trying on different styles (“A Strange Arrangement of Colours,” “Proof”) and it keeps them from sounding one-dimensional. If the songs on Natural History were more instantly memorable, I Am Kloot seems a bit prouder; they welcome you in but expect you to meet them halfway and still on their terms. It almost feels understated, which is a somewhat relative term, especially when measuring it against albums by, say, Coldplay, Oasis, Travis, or The Verve.
I Am Kloot live or die by small things: a chord change that grabs you when normally it might not; a turn of phrase that pulls you closer without calling too much attention to itself. On this second point they’re much more successful than on Natural History. In an interview Bramwell said that he wanted the lyrics to be less “flippant.” It works; the lyrics are more accessible and to the point. While Kloot have worked out many of their quirks, you can only hope that they don’t begin to confuse being less obtuse with being dull. They stay on the right side of the line for almost all of the twelve songs here, but it’s close enough that they might slip over as they work out a more commercial sound. They deserve whatever success is to be had, but the hope is that the audience continues to come to Kloot—rather than the other way around.