Stealing Sheep Into The Diamond Sun(Heavenly) Buy it from Insound
Ask any rational-thinking person about the worst aspects of life in Britain in 2012, and the continued existence of Hollyoaks and the baffling success of Mumford and Sons - and their slew of banjo-plucking, folk-tradition-stealing, public-school-going imitators - would probably feature fairly high up on their list.
But then there's Stealing Sheep; the band who came to widespread attention by soundtracking an uncharacteristically artistic commercial for the former earlier this year with a beguiling bit of folk rock quite possibly inspired by the latter.
That track, and the band's debut single, was Shut Eye, and it takes pride of place here (well, is track number two, following the almost as enchanting stylophone stomp of The Garden), and several months down the line, and removed from the visuals of impossibly attractive (but not particularly good) actors, fortunately remains just as charming as it was on first listen; vaguely sinister, initially simple but increasingly complex, constantly shifting and genuinely anthemic, it's absolutely one of the tracks of the year.
Shame about the rest of Into The Diamond Sun though.
Things start to go wrong alarmingly rapidly after that high-point - Rearrange kicks off with one of those chord progressions that just somehow sounds intrinsically, even irritatingly, wrong. The threesome may just about turn it around with a quietly wailing coda, and uncanny impersonations of the vocal stylings of the great, late, still lamented Lush (albeit with broad Liverpudlian accents), but for the most part it feels like a string of fairly anaemic parts that have been rather clumsily bolted together.
In fact, the same criticism could be leveled at most of the album's tracks - the shifting structures that worked so sublimely on Shut Eye fall completely flat elsewhere, and suggest that while the girls have an exceptional amount of technical skill (particularly in the somnambulantly sinister opening minute of Circles, before it gets all lively in a C86/e-number induced hyperactivity sort of way), their songcrafting abilities are rather lacking. In fact, even in the more coherent numbers, like the Fleet Foxes pastiche of Gold, there's barely any substance, or even tunes, to be found on Into The Diamond Sun, just a lot of slightly upbeat cooing interspersed with plenty of hand-clapping.
Of course a little bit of twee never hurt anybody (it's pretty much what the Heavenly label was founded on), but a line has to be drawn somewhere, and that comes, very much decisively in the teeth-grindingly annoying Shark Song, about which all one really needs to know is that it opens with the spectacularly redundant sentiment "Sharks are big and sharks are scary/Sharks make me feel extremely wary", and pretty much stays on the same emotional and intellectual level throughout.
Into The Diamond Sun is somewhat equivalent to being pelted with macaroons; at first sweet, delicate, even impressively constructed, but soon proving not just boring, but intensely samey, sickly and unsatisfying. There's just about enough here to suggest that Stealing Sheep have the potential to turn in something special, when they've lived and learnt a bit, in the meantime though it's probably best to just hang onto the Shut Eye single and pretend that the rest of this never happened.5 September, 2012 - 11:16 — Mark Davison