An Encomium for Stealing Sheep & Into the Diamond Sun
Those fortunate enough to already be familiar with the earlier releases or performances of Stealing Sheep (the former being a remarkably good representation of the latter and, as is consequently necessary, vice versa) will have some idea of what to expect from Into the Diamond Moon, their debut album from Heavenly Records: An organic sound which feels like it must have existed prior to its discovery with the stripped-back sounds of a single guitar, keyboard and drums which lift, almost subliminally, beautiful harmonies with a touch of ethereal spirituality to them. They’d be right, to some extent, and those moments which do evince all the qualities already exhibited in Stealing Sheep’s earlier songs, but the album is not tied slavishly to its past pedigree, instead proving its own.
There are some songs, like Circles, Gold and Liven Up, which ring less strident then the more familiar sounds of Rearrange or Tangled Up in Stars, but are still played in the jocoserious earnest which seemed to make strange anthems, if not stranger protest music, of many of the songs on the band’s previous release, Noah & The Paper Moon. I’d include Shark Song in such company too, but any element of seriousness has dropped away into a playfulness which brings the song to borders between Stealing Sheep’s usual trippy-folk and nursery rhyme (in the finest traditions of singsong memorability and practical instructions for children) All these examples have less immediacy than their more insistent fellows, but become firm favourites on subsequent listens.
Even with these shifts in tone and the presence of slightly more languid rhythms the album has a definite cohesive and unique aural identity. The experience creates the sensation of finding an ambient score which has discovered its voice(s) and the percussive intent and has taken centre-stage from its more performative rivals. Stealing Sheep’s precise polyphonies are sung in intertwined loops and swirls of carefully constructed cacophony which could and can exist absent the pulsing heartbeat of drums and cymbals, spirit detached from form, but create more gripping musics with their visceral tribalisms intact. There’s a suggestion of a hypnotic quality there, an anticipation of some deeper meaning locked in the thrum and pulse of heavier songs.
It’s strange then, and perhaps even a little (irrationally) off-putting, that as Bear Tracks fades out there are a couple of codas which stray far then farther from the rest of the album’s songs. It’s as though some last-minute hesitation put paid to the idea of releasing an album under thirty-five minutes long and led to singer/keyboard-er Becky Hawley eking a few extra minutes out of a lovely but slightly out of place piece on the piano. I’m tempted to rationalise the incongruity away, to suggest that the shift from song to ambience and then to delicate score is some slow release from the slightly dazed and dazzled mindset which Into the Diamond Sun puts its listeners into, but…
Fuck it; let’s go with that.
Buy the album and/or go and see one of Stealing Sheep’s similarly stellar live shows (both of which I’ve attended have been great fun) as they tour the album, then tweet me (@pmidiosyncrasies) to say thanks for the recommendation and tweet the band directly (@stealingsheep) just to say thanks.