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The Guardian - UK
The Guardian - UK
Katie Hawthorne

Harp: Albion review – former Midlake frontman traipses through twilight

Permanent twilight … Kathi Zung and Tim Smith.
Permanent twilight … Kathi Zung and Tim Smith. Photograph: David Zung

Heavy with quiet, Harp’s debut album invokes Sussex fields to muse on creative loss, loneliness and bittersweet new love. Inspired by William Blake, Herstmonceux Castle and the Cure’s Faith – possibly the Crawley band’s most desolate record – Tim Smith and Kathi Zung craft a barren landscape out of 80s-indebted reverb, ghostly vocals and sharp, tinny drums. It feels like a permanent twilight.

Harp: Albion cover art
Harp: Albion cover art Photograph: Publicity image

Albion arrives a decade after Smith left the Texas folk-rock band Midlake, citing creative differences, and fans of his previous work will be gratified by the texture and detail here: synthesised strings, sirens and wheezy flutes lurk behind a misty layer of electric and acoustic guitar. Frustratingly, Smith’s grand, mournful voice is buried in the mix, his gravitas subdued by swathes of sound.

Much of the album is set at a walking pace, from a dreamy amble through the “pleasant greys” of the opening instrumental into the claggy fields of single I Am the Seed. An earthy metaphor for Smith’s frustrated perfectionism, he sings, muffled: “Everything now lies fallow, nothing gives what it once did.”

Despite such potent themes there is little sharpness to Albion, no flint among the chalk. Silver Wings comes closest to disrupting the album’s reverent gloom: Smith’s voice feels emboldened, supported by weightier drums from Zung and a heavier acoustic strum. “I felt it begin / With a hundred new thoughts,” he declares, a man on the brink of a breakthrough. On this first record, Harp plants the hopeful seeds of something yet to bloom.

  • Albion is released via Bella Union on 1 December

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