Retro-amped chipper tunes…
For fans of the Vince Clarke-ian style of synth-pop, a new album from Northern Kind will always be an event. Indeed, the internet-based launch night (dubbed the ‘Antidote to The X-Factor’) pulled in over 11,000 streams on SoundCloud in just one hour. And with Erasure’s Andy Bell tweeting “Loving the sound of ‘Credible Sexy Unit'”, the stage is set for the much-anticipated return of Leicester’s finest electronic duo.
Recorded at their private studio in Leicestershire, Credible Sexy Unit is Northern Kind’s third album, following 2009’s Wired: and 53 Degrees North from 2007. From the off, Credible Sexy Unit lays down its template with ‘Yours’, a fantastic slice of jaunty sing-along synth-pop (which includes a cheeky 4th-wall breaking line imploring the listener to “refer to chorus of the song”). As with Wired:, the time (and money) spent mastering this album at Trakworx in San Francisco is instantly evident, lending the tracks an analogue richness and a hint of Californian sunshine that lends Northern Kind’s one boy + one girl + synths ‘n’ software formula a suitable distinction from contemporaries such as Vile Electrodes. In fact, I’m even beginning to see Northern Kind and Vile Electrodes as two sides of the UK synth-pop coin: one dark and a little bit naughty; the other full of hope and bright guiding light.
But back to the album: ‘Piece Of Me’ affords vocalist and writer Sarah Heeley the chance to show off her range (with only the daintiest touch of vocal manipulation), and the beautifully smooth ‘Out Of Time’ has the kind of chorus that makes you go “Yeah, exactly”! ‘Life’ brings back the Yazoo-iness Northern Kind are so good at, even adding a sly Mode nod with the line “I just can’t get enough”. Single from a couple of years ago ‘Dreams’ has a slightly re-imagined and fuller sound, and the song hasn’t lost any of its shine. That chorus of “I – wish – you – well” still reminds me of The Bee Gees!
‘Free Prescriptions’ is the one song on this otherwise consistently good album that somehow doesn’t ring true. It’s a bit like when The Human League interrupt the fun to “do a political one” on a pop album: it just feels a bit out of place. While some might bemoan the overriding upbeat nature of Credible Sexy Unit, hearing Sarah proclaim “Take 2, take 3, take 4; take that, you’re an NHS whore” leaves a slightly bitter aftertaste. But then I live in Scotland where we still have free prescriptions, so perhaps I’m missing the point of this song entirely. ‘The Bridge’ is an intriguing instrumental, with a smoky, Arabic feel and echoes of Oribital’s ‘The Box’. It’s good to hear Matt Culpin experiment a little – the Vince Clarke Well must surely dry up soon – and this track shows one fascinating possible future direction for the band.
When Northern Kind debuted some of Credible Sexy Unit at a gig a few months ago, Sarah introduced ‘The River’ as her favourite from the album. Gently uplifting, ‘The River’ is vocally comforting and synthetically complex; there’s something spiritual and beguiling about this song. I love it! The reference to Vile Electrodes earlier in this review might have confused you, but here’s the payoff: take a listen to Da Vile’s track ‘Drowned Cities’ and then listen to Northern Kind’s ‘Daggers’. Both nod back to Front 242 circa 1993, but whereas Vile Electrodes take a dystopian progression, Northern Kind are ever the optimists and “move on towards the light”.
Ironically, ‘Heat’ cools things down both in tempo and instrumentation, bringing the vocals to the fore. A tale of disappointment and a lover failing to live up to expectations, “why aren’t you intellectual?” demands Sarah. The second half of the song is instrumental so we must draw our own conclusions. Me, I reckon she packed up and drove away. Finally ‘Euphonic’ – Northern Kind’s very agreeable single from 2011 – closes the album on a perfect upbeat number. I’ve heard this song countless times while waiting for ‘CSU’ to come out: it’s testament to the band’s skills that it still sounds so fresh and vibrant.
Taken as a whole, the songs that make up Credible Sexy Unit form exactly what you’d expect from Northern Kind: retro-amped chipper tunes, superlative singing, enduring song writing, and a professional attitude that belies their indie sensibilities. Credible Sexy Unit will surely please any discerning synth-pop fan, especially those seeking a bit of cheerful enlightenment.
Credible Sexy Unit is available as a CD now from http://northernkind.bigcartel.com/
The download edition will be released on 21st October 2013 via Amazon, iTunes and other digital outlets
Text by Jer White @ Pansentient League