In 2010, some or all of Sheffield musical geniuses I Monster teamed up with folk singer Kevin Pearce for one of the best projects of recent years, Skywatchers. I was completely blown away by their album The Skywatchers Handbook, and obsessively looked forward to the follow-up.
Three years on, and it still hasn’t come, but what we do have isn’t far off – for his debut solo album Pocket Handkerchief Lane in 2011, Pearce elected to work with I Monster again as his producers, meaning that this is far from the pure folk music that you may have been expecting.
The first track is Get By, a curiously throbbing but laid back song, and a very sweet song indeed. The slightly grungy middle section is about as dark as things get on the whole album actually.
Pearce has a wonderfully expressive vocal style, which on the Skywatchers album leant a haunting quality to the space and science fiction-obsessed music. Here, stripped of the most inhuman vocal effects, the sound is a little more down to earth.
This doesn’t always work in its favour unfortunately – tracks such as Older Times and Turn Me to Ice are perhaps a little more pedestrian than they deserve to be. Pleasant, of course, but also lacking the punch of which Kevin Pearce has shown himself capable.
Don’t Fall Down is a return to form, with another ethereal vocal over a rather dramatic guitar-driven base, and the middle track Waste is one of my favourites on the whole album, again full of emotion and spirit.
Later tracks Burning Summer Sun and Don’t Tell My Heart are similarly powerful, the former driven by the repeated line “I don’t want to be alone,” and an almost cheerful guitar rhythm. The latter ends with a distinctly premature fade, but then turns into Vultures, which with its electro bassline is definitely one of the best tracks on the album.
The last track is another fine moment – Last Blow Out. Again, somehow Pearce’s vocal does seem to work better when backed with multi-instrumentation rather than just his guitar, or perhaps that’s just my prejudice. But the rhythm and backing on this track really make it a rather powerful closer.
By the end, it’s actually pretty surprising that this whole album has only lasted a little over half an hour – it’s a very easy listen, full of emotion and clever lyrics, and it’s not even remotely offensive. If anything, it is perhaps a little forgettable in places, but the better moments more than make up for the weaker ones.
I’ll apologise for the continual comparisons, but The Skywatchers Handbook this is not. But Pocket Handkerchief Lane is still a very good album, sitting in its weird place on the cusp of folk and electronic music.
The best place to find Pocket Handkerchief Lane is on the artist’s own page on Bandcamp.