Release Date: Aug 20, 2012
Record label: Cooperative Music
Genre(s): Alternative Pop/Rock
Welcome the golden dawn: this Liverpool three-piece – music student Becky Hawley, shop assistants Emily Lansley and Lucy Mercer – formed in 2010 and, taking attitudinal lessons from the Au Pairs, Slits and Raincoats, do it themselves: management, booking their own gigs and sharing a van with their pals’ band. Their music, too, is defiantly their own. Yes, you hear influences – Bert Jansch’s strange timings, the gypsy folk of female duo Jan and Lorraine, the choral electronica fusion of The People – but what Stealing Sheep do with them is wonderful, exciting and places them firmly in the new psych vanguard.
After Mediaeval Baebes, Gaggle, Kyla La Grange and PJ Harvey’s ‘Let England Shake’, it’s high time someone did the dark-ages folk thing without dressing for a dunking in 1143. The debut album from Liverpool girl-trio Stealing Sheep strips the style of all Wicker Man cheese and stuffs it full of modern relevance – Warpaint vocals, Kills garage licks, Stereolab synths, Doors-y psychedelia, Animal Collective apocalypto-tribalism and one song about being seriously shitted up by Jaws (‘Shark Song’: “In my dreams they walk on their fins…”). The brilliant tongue-twisty single ‘Shut Eye’, complete with an almost hip-hop pipe and tabor solo, could even be culled from an xx gig at the Globe, while ‘Rearrange’ resembles an insanely catchy cross between Gorillaz’ ‘Plastic Beach’ and Damon Albarn’s Renaissance opera ‘Dr Dee’.
Stealing Sheep's debut album is a delightful bag of pick'n'mix. You can hear the twang of a Velvet Underground guitar here, a buzz of Ladytron synth there, often atop their fondness for creepy Wicker Man vocal harmonies. Yet the Liverpool trio of Becky Hawley, Emily Lansley and Lucy Mercer have made a debut album that never feels incoherent, or as though it's reciting influences out loud for credibility.
It's difficult to know where to start with Stealing Sheep. Already lazily described as 'the English Warpaint' - well, they are an all-female band and merge numerous genres together after all - only a fool would pigeonhole a act whose middle name could easily be christened 'diversity', were it not for the fact those three words ('Stealing', 'Diversity', 'Sheep') probably wouldn't work very well in the same sentence. Having formed three years ago at Liverpool's Institute of Performing Arts, the eclectic trio have already bewildered and confounded many an audience with their enthralling live show.
Moody psychedelic jamming, entrancing female voices (courtesy in this case of all three members), and a slow-burn tunefulness isn't a new approach by any means, so Stealing Sheep aren't busting down any doors, whether hearkening back to Mazzy Star or notable contemporaries like Warpaint. On a song like "Gold," its conclusion of guitar filigrees and a huge wash of slow fuzz is as blissed-out and celebratory, in a familiar sense, as one could wish. But Into the Diamond Sun shows the trio has its own ear for how to combine and recombine those elements, not least thanks to a balance of sprightly clarity and sudden shifting in the arrangements that feels more like a hip-hop mix transposed onto past approaches than just a jam.
Whenever the scruffy cartoon bird that is Heavenly Records’ mascot perches on your shoulder you can be sure of at least one thing: the music contained therein will definitely be interesting. This is the eclectic flapper who feathered its nest with wise ol’ owls Saint Etienne, those squawkin’ cockerels the Vines, the erm, ‘dove-like’ Doves and the loco-Dodos Flowered Up, a band with a penchant for dressing as giant flowers and making films about “Getting on one down the rave-up” and subsequently being chased by a massive stylus. Heavenly was also savvy-slash-bonkers enough to allow four Welsh punks in stencilled blouses and eyeliner to release a single with the radio-friendly chorus “I laughed when Lennon got shot” (Manic Street Preachers’ “Motown Junk”).
Ask any rational-thinking person about the worst aspects of life in Britain in 2012, and the continued existence of Hollyoaks and the baffling success of Mumford and Sons - and their slew of banjo-plucking, folk-tradition-stealing, public-school-going imitators - would probably feature fairly high up on their list. But then there's Stealing Sheep; the band who came to widespread attention by soundtracking an uncharacteristically artistic commercial for the former earlier this year with a beguiling bit of folk rock quite possibly inspired by the latter. That track, and the band's debut single, was Shut Eye, and it takes pride of place here (well, is track number two, following the almost as enchanting stylophone stomp of The Garden), and several months down the line, and removed from the visuals of impossibly attractive (but not particularly good) actors, fortunately remains just as charming as it was on first listen; vaguely sinister, initially simple but increasingly complex, constantly shifting and genuinely anthemic, it's absolutely one of the tracks of the year.
Hugely impressive debut LP from the Liverpool trio. John Aizlewood 2012 It took The Pierces four albums to evolve from mistresses of knowing folky quirk into genuine contenders owing as much to peak-period Fleetwood Mac and The Bangles as Bat for Lashes and Kate Bush. It’s taken all-female trio Stealing Sheep a couple of EPs and this debut to make a similar journey.
The first time I interviewed Becky Hawley, Stealing Sheep's keyboard player and chief-of-strategy, she suggested her Liverpool flat as the venue. Ensconced around her kitchen table, Hawley chatted about her time spent at the city's Institute of Performing Arts, recalled an evening spent jamming with Paul McCartney and revealed how Stealing Sheep had once been smuggled into Abbey Road in the dead of night to record their early single 'I Am The Rain'. A few months later, I returned to Merseyside to interview Stealing Sheep for the Quietus.