As the first few chords of the opening track rumble into life, it’s clear that Motto is going to be a bit special. Sky Larkin have come a long way since their humble beginnings in the basement of Katie’s university halls. Now signed to the prodigious Wichita Recordings, home of such luminaries as Les Savy Fav, Waxahatchee, Bloc Party and Cloud Nothings, it would seem that their star has never been so high.
The last eight years has witnessed a remarkable progression in the band’s music and song writing. Motto is in certain sense far removed from The Golden Spike, their début album, but it’s also instantly familiar. Far from eschewing their early sound as seems the vogue with many bands today, their third album is hewn from the same rock as their previous releases, but it is unique in many ways.
The Golden Spike was enshrouded in a youthful exuberance and naivety, and whilst it contained glimmers of gold, it felt more of a fusion of songs that a clearly defined mass. Their follow-up, Kaleide, whilst bearing their hallmarks, felt more finessed and structured. However, it didn’t quite manage to hold everything together for its entirety.
Motto feels like the real deal. Their music and song-writing has matured along with the band themselves. At first glance you could be forgiven for mistakenly thinking that we’re in for more of the same, but listen closely and you’ll begin to glean subtle nuances in their sound. Amidst the familiar energy and spikiness there is a newfound sense of self-assurance and confidence. Hearken more intently and you’ll perceive the subtle swagger and panache of a band who knows exactly what they’re about.
I’ve been a casual fan of Sky Larkin for years now, but hand on heart, I’d be the first to admit that they’ve never managed to transform the sheer energy and fun of their live performances onto record. Until now that is. As expected, Motto is more than blessed with its fair share of earworms. ‘Newsworthy’ and ‘Treasury’ mischievously play with tempo and rhythm before breaking-down into an infectious chorus, whilst lead single ‘Loom’ is a succulent slice of sing-a-long brilliance.
However, the highlights are their more introspective moments. ‘Frozen Summer’ is a moody and laconic lullaby that explores darker territory, but where they really shine is on ‘Overgrown’ and the album finale ‘Que Linda (Wake to Applause)’. The former is an emotionally charged and sorrowful lament whilst the latter feels like the fragile moments between sleep and wakefulness, glistening and glittering in the hazy autumnal glow; delicate, haunting and beautiful.
Musically, they’ve evolved markedly since their early days, evident in the complexity and construction of these songs. Katie’s voice has matured and blossomed, as has the lyricism which has a poetic feel. Indeed, there is a literary quality to the whole piece. This is an album which requires repeated plays in order to appreciate it fully; if you skim it you’re liable to miss the subtle nuances and understated beauty. Indeed, it’s a record that gets better on every listen.
Sky Larkin have achieved something which is rare in today’s music: An album with no weak songs. Motto is one of the best albums you’ll hear by a British band all year and one you’ll want to come back to again and again.
Motto is out now on Wichita Recordings.