The sophomore album from Nottingham band Lorna could easily be put into a niche that groups like Delgados, South, Belle and Sebastian, et al. have crafted for themselves, making one finely arranged pop song after another that people on this side of the pond have truly yet to marvel at. However, Lorna, which is basically a group intent on making its own mark, tends to disassociate itself from said bands. Over the course of some 50 minutes and 11 songs, Lorna is an extremely intellectual pop group that makes music the way it’s supposed to be made — organically and deliberately. The vocals serve as another instrument and songs like “Understanding Heavy Metal Parts I and II” soar into the clouds and seem to levitate there, neither going too high for drama or too low. It’s stunning how quickly this happens, sounding as if the band decided to create an Albion version or homage to Wilco. Sharon Cohen lends some airy vocals on Part I, with banjo and horn added to flesh out the arrangement. “She stole a car but she’s far too young to drive,” the lyric goes as harmonica and some electronica make a brief entrance. Part II is a logical extension of this, although it goes into a hyper-active, synth-meets-ambient domain.
Don’t let this fool you however, for Lorna has several songs that meet the criteria for slow, dirge-ish, reflective pieces. It’s just that the band takes the long way around sometimes, especially on the angelic “Homerun” which is, well, a home run in terms of sheer quality and strength. Cinematic at times almost to a fault, the song conjures up images of a dreary London Sunday afternoon, hitting the occasional puddle on the sidewalk with fog off in the distance. While Cohen’s timbre is fragile, it’s not so delicate as to be forced, particularly in this instance. Lovers of the Cure will rally round the epic, heartfelt entrance into “The Last Mosquito Fight of Summer”, which could have been easily placed on Bloodflowers, possibly after “The Loudest Sound”. The spacey, Star Trek-ian keys are a bit hard to swallow, but it’s a small annoyance at worst. From there it becomes extremely hypnotic for the remaining three to four minutes.
The hushed nature to the record is its biggest plus, judging by the folksy, Luna-like “Remarkable Things”, a track that inches itself one banjo pluck and pedal steel note at a time. The touching, dreamy effect recalls a British version of Cowboy Junkies at times, in no hurry to conclude or wrap it up. “Swans” is just as soothing, again bringing to mind Luna but somehow also coming off a bit like the Beautiful South circa Blue Is the Colour. Cohen’s voice is the centerpiece of the lyrics on a very lovely “Be Forever” that would give Enya or Sinead a run for their money. Think Knife in the Water and you get the gist of this track. “Too far to feel the sun / You left a little in my room,” she utters as the drums are kept to a bare minimum, just the distant tap of the cymbals from time to time. “Snow Song” is the first attempt at a mild form of indie pop that doesn’t quite hit as close to home as one would hope.
The homestretch gets off on the wrong foot with a routine and somewhat bland “Will You Still Love Me Yesterday?” Here the male vocals are the lead but the song doesn’t go as far as it possibly could, laidback to a point of almost nodding off. Nonetheless, Lorna finishes as promisingly as they opened during the seven-minute plus “Illuminations”.
Dreary, bleak but with a glint of hope threading the album together, Lorna has captured the fine line between pristinely, haunting somber music and music packaged to make you feel a tad blue.