"Stealing Sheep"? Gotta be a tough talkin', tattooed wild bunch of hell raisin' mercenaries, right? Not quite.
Whenever the scruffy cartoon bird that is Heavenly Records' mascot perches on your shoulder you can be sure of at least one thing: the music contained therein will definitely be interesting. This is the eclectic flapper who feathered its nest with wise ol' owls Saint Etienne, those squawkin' cockerels the Vines, the erm, 'dove-like' Doves and the loco-Dodos Flowered Up, a band with a penchant for dressing as giant flowers and making films about "Getting on one down the rave-up" and subsequently being chased by a massive stylus. Heavenly was also savvy-slash-bonkers enough to allow four Welsh punks in stencilled blouses and eyeliner to release a single with the radio-friendly chorus "I laughed when Lennon got shot" (Manic Street Preachers' "Motown Junk"). One flew over the cuckoo's nest indeed.
So it's no surprise then to find Liverbird trio (crazy name, crazy gals) Stealing Sheep's debut reassuringly interesting. It's an 'Alice through the looking glass' trip back to the kaleidoscopic folk of the late '60s / early '70s. Rebecca, Emily and Lucy (perfectly English 'Cream 'n' scones' names) may be from 'Oop Norf' but they sound like a remote rural Devonshire village blissfully isolated from the big, bad city. From the fiddlin' n' footstompin' opener "The Garden" you'll be breathing in bursts of village fêtes, town halls, astrological starcharts, Morris dancers, maypoles, local ale, travellin' tinkers and clandestine meetings in the woods after nightfall. "Five o'clock on Sunday morning / Why don't you come and fetch me out?" they coo with enchanting sweetness but the flicker of Syd Barrett gonzo mentalism behind the peepers suggest it's possibly inadvisable. But don't be fooled by that breaking-the-law moniker or suspicion of substance abuse, this is clearly a trio packing jellybeans not bathsalts.
Yes like a pack of feral, wild-eyed kids in a candy store, Into the Diamond Sun proves a generally hyperactive experience. "The Garden" starts off echoing the sliding, chiming riff from Blur's "Beetlebum" but later threatens to break into Irving Berlin's "Putting on the Ritz". The barnstorming "Shut Eye" is all cryptic Mad Hatter riddles, handclaps 'n harmonies, acid tabs on the tongue and is the living definition of 'ear worm', the circling, floral dance hook as permanent as a brain tattoo. It's a flower-powered beatnik freakout so potent if you squint you may just catch Fonda and Hopper riding by in a fog of dope smoke. Later "Genevieve" appears like a lost scene from Valley of the Dolls, a basement happening with beehives, monochrome stripy tops and cats in berets and Raybans clicking their fingers and saying "...groovy". Tip in a dash of Austin Powers's velvety hipshakin' funkiness and it's technically impossible not to throw caution to the wind and declare "Ohh baby, let's cut a rug." The most purely entertaining moment by far though is "Shark Song", a tune about, yes, being chased by sharks. "They can eat you with any hassle / In my dreams they walk on their fins / and that's why I don't go to the seaside." The words are as batshit crazy as a postcard from an infant or a psychiatric patient and thus, utterly brilliant. Chained to a magic melody similar to the Police's "Every Little Thing She Does is Magic", it's pure pop gold with ("Hello Buck Rogers") synth bits and will accordingly either make you swoon like a lovestruck teenager or vomit into your neighbour's lap.
There's a sense of the acid kicking in around halftime and things start to blur and sway, in a good way. Both the Woodstock wash of "Circles" and The Doors-y "Gold" are perfect for sunny afternoon strolls across sand dunes with naked Native Americans. "I hear the hush, I feel the rush" the Sheep bleat hypnotically, sounding so often like the much-missed Trish Keenan from Broadcast. Despite the overall chirpiness of Diamond there is always an air of "Ring Around the Roses" subtext haunting its distant edges and the record's most forlorn, intriguing track proves most memorable. "Bear Tracks", a nine-minute opus in two parts. The first half is falling-through-a-dream wistful with soothing, choral, parting harmonies reminiscent of "Corpus Christi Carol". The second half is a lonesome, semi-classical piano instrumental and yes, it's okay to have a little cry now. That both halves are bookended by that wacky cartoon noise used when someone has run off a cliff yet still momentarily scrambles in mid air is characteristically charming. "Bear" offers tantalising glimpse of what lies beyond this Sun.
Diamonds' hyperactivity and peachy-keenness to try every instrument in the village does however occasionally twist your melon the wrong way. The hyper-twee "Rearrange" is a Belle and Sebastian fan's wet dream. It evokes Little Lord Fauntleroy auditioning for Shakespeare resplendent in comfy knitwear and ironically thick-rimmed glasses. "Can it not just wait 'til morning light so we can see it clearly?" it whines so incessantly you'll likely suggest "Just put some leeches on it!". The bratty "Liven Up" sounds like a Kate Nash B-side whereas "White Lies" is chintzy filler and "Tangle Up In Stars" is shoulder-shrugging bobbins about puppets, eyes and lizards. Listening to Diamond it's easy to picture one stressed-to-the-max producer, trembling, head in hands, buried beneath sketches and notes screaming "Everybody SIT DOWN and STOP having 'new' ideas!"
Into the Diamond Sun is clearly not a record for curmudgeons or people with OCD. It's colourful, chaotic, intoxicating, daft, pretty, odd, often enchanting but sometimes too saccharine sweet. From its opening bars every badass, bad mannered Rock 'n Roll atom in your body will scream "Destroy! DESTROY!" but go the distance and I guarantee you'll be somewhat charmed. Hey any record with a song about hiding from walking sharks has at the very least got to be well, interesting.