Album Review: Sky Larkin – Motto

By on Thursday, 12th September 2013 at 12:00 pm

Sky Larkin Motto coverSky Larkin’s third studio album ‘Motto’ is set for release on Monday the 16th of September, just over 3 years after 2010’s ‘Kaleide’. In that time, the band have been touring and playing almost constantly, both as a unit and individually with other groups. Earlier this year, the reformed quartet – having switched Sam Pryor for Doug Adams on bass and adding Nile Marr as a second guitarist – returned to Yorkshire to finish writing the album, which was then recorded in Seattle with producer and collaborator John Goodmanson.

Singer/guitarist Katie Harkin began the writing process for ‘Motto’ while on tour with art rock band Wild Beasts, and her choices of subject matter reflect the wandering, reflective mood of that vagabond existence, including songs about dreaming of home (‘Tarn’), memories of love (‘Treasury’), and artistic quandaries (title track ‘Motto’). Lyrically, the songs are full of imaginative and evocative imagery, such as the opening line of ‘Overgrown’: “In the hills above Bradford, there was a horrid accident.”

But while the album’s themes are eclectically varied, the music itself is almost alarmingly static. Harkin’s singing, while clear in tone quality, is somewhat monotonous, especially given the angular shape of the vocal melodies. Aside from some slick guitar work here and there, the instrumental intensity is overpowering in its lack of technical sensitivity, completely annihilating Harkin’s vocal lines with heavy, screeching guitars and incessantly crashing drums.

One of the lyrics in ‘Newsworthy’ seems ironically apropos, as it declares, “Darling, I’m drowning, the cacophony is coming for me / There is no such thing as disembodied intimacy.” Indeed, the harsh instrumental racket completely destroys the sense of emotional connection to the lyrics, as the subtleties of their elusive imagery and ambiguous poetic structure are lost in relentless surges of noise.

The album’s first single, ‘Motto’, begins with a dirge-like introduction and a driving bass riff before diving headlong into its singsong refrain, “I saw what I saw / Saw what I saw / Did what I did.” If Harkin actually does have a “motto to mutter”, she does it here; these are easily the catchiest lyrics on the album.

‘Que Linda (Wake To Applause)’ is a surprising but welcome reprieve from the blaring urgency of the rest of the album. Placed at the end of the track listing, it is a novel finishing touch. Harkin’s ethereal singing and muted keyboard melody are perfectly illustrative of “music floating down from an open window.” Deftly added guitars and soft percussion bring depth and definition before the gentle fadeout at the end.

Katie Harkin’s stated intent for this third album was to be both “immediate” and “expansive,” to “make something beautiful that wasn’t also permissive”. While ‘Motto’ is both immediate and expansive, it doesn’t quite bridge the dichotomy, creating instead a somewhat belligerent overstatement of their case. Another round of touring with the newly formed line-up might help Sky Larkin find their happy medium.


‘Motto’ is out Monday (the 16th of September) on Wichita Recordings. Listen to the title track in the Soundcloud widget below. Sky Larkin are set to begin their UK tour the day after, on Tuesday the 17th of September at London Lexington; for full details, go here.

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5 Responses

12:35 pm
12th September 2013

New post: Album Review: Sky Larkin @weareskylarkin – Motto:

8:17 pm
12th September 2013

RT @tgtf: New post: Album Review: Sky Larkin @weareskylarkin – Motto:

[…] The sumptuous surroundings of The Lexington in London’s Kings Cross, with its deep claret walls, raised mezzanine and Victorian charm, always seems to yield a civilised affair. Especially when set against the floorboard-ripping antics of Camden’s many boozer/venue crossovers that lay just the other side of the station. And, here again, a diverse crowd of loyal fans and curious new-bloods converged for Sky Larkin’s first London show in 3 years; an intimate airing of their already acclaimed third studio album ‘Motto’, released just a day earlier on Wichita Recordings – “the only label that will bring you a whiskey on stage”. (Read Carrie’s review of ‘Motto’ here.) […]

[…] Sky Larkin have reinvigorated themselves with a crisp autumnal LP in ‘Motto’ (reviewed by Carrie here), their third studio album out now on Wichita Recordings. Following a 3-year hiatus, a line-up […]

[…] have released a unique video for track ‘Newsworthy’, off their September 2013 album ‘Motto’ out now on Wichita Recordings. This is a lyric video (“the cacophony is coming for me”) […]

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