gullbuy music review

The Occasional Keepers


The Beauty of the Empty Vessel




The Occasional Keepers CD coverThe Beauty of the Empty Vessel is the debut album by Bobby Wratten's new band The Occasional Keepers.

Bobby achieved legendary status in the indie world as the leader of the Sarah band Field Mice, and subsequently Northern Picture Library and Trembling Blue Stars.

He is joined on this new project by Carolyn Allen on keyboards, and Caesar on guitars, vocal, harmonica and melodica. Caesar was in the early 80s Liverpool band The Wake. Producer Ian Catt also is credited with programming, additional keyboards and ambient slide guitar. Ian Catt is a well known producer who has been behind some of the greatest records by Saint Etienne, Shampoo and Trembling Blue Stars, among others.

The record cover has the same look as the sleeves of electronic music Lawrence, and the music - though an entirely different genre - shares a sense of wide open spaces and dreaminess. Though much less loud than Sigur Ros, fans of that band will enjoy the dreamy feel of The Beauty of the Empty Vessel as well. For that fact, Kendra Smith fans would love this record too.

The record opens with The Bracken. It is an acoustic guitar/vocal track that is augmented by a native American sounding wood flute. Rose-Scented Fire starts with incidental sounds from field recordings Bobby did before the record. The sound of wind blowing, with the bell-like tone of someone playing the rims of spinning crystal glass and the occasional creak of a gate add mood to the track. Again, the song is principally acoustic guitar and Bobby's vocal. Like The Bracken, the song becomes more than the sum of its parts.

J. Carpenter Kid is sung by Beth Arzy of Trembling Blue Stars and Aberdeen. She says memories of a cheergirl alot and the soft music has a lot of bell-like tones.

Of Nightingales has (soft) electronic static sounds and clicks below Bobby's voice and acoustic guitar. The chorus is the loudest thing on the record, with strummed acoustic guitar and Bobby's voice blasting through a processor effect. The song ends with electronic sound - this time like a buzzing bee. This is the stand out song on the record, as far as first impressions are concerned.

Concrete Music uses sparse piano and distant conversations to set the mood, before church bells toll and melodica plays. The track develops into an electronic beat and softly played guitar as the din of conversation grows louder but still unintelligible.

In Quiet Isolation is an instrumental which starts off sounding a bit like the Pink Floyd tune Shine On You Crazy Diamond, but does not develop into a synphic pop tune. In Quiet Isolation has a stillness and peace such as you might feel after arriving at ancient Asasazi cliff dwellings after a hike through the desert in Navajo National Monument.

Desire once again features Beth Arzy on vocals. This time the principle vocal that sticks in my head is she feels alive.

North Sea Rig is a sparse instrumental. The Crackle of Debris is another song that is basically acoustic guitar and Bobby's vocal, but this time it is underlaid by an arhythmic electronic sound that along with the spacious flute, somehow makes the song sound more natural.

The Last Lighthouse Keeper is the album's masterpiece, going on for almost 8 minutes. It has all the elements prised in the other songs, but somehow brings it all together into one place.

This record works excellently when just played and enjoyed, rather than examined closely. Though its mellow feel and quiet tones are not in a genre I visit frequently, I believe I will be playing this CD again and enjoying the mood that the music creates.

Faves: 1,4, 10

---Carl, September 13, 2005