Stealing Sheep ‘Not Real’ (Heavenly Recordings)

Liverpool outfit make good on their debut album promise with an inventive follow-up

It was in the summer of 2012 that Stealing Sheep – a trio of singer-composers from Liverpool – released their debut album, ‘Into The Diamond Sun’. Becky Hawley, Emily Lansley and Lucy Mercer showed a daring, maverick attitude to songwriting right from the off and they had the skill set to carry it off. Integrating analogue and digital electronics with their already established strong vocal melodies and harmonies (see Dum Dum Girls) and DIY punk guitars (see The Raincoats), everything about them said, “This is our time, our place”.

And for all the comments about their girly quirkiness and psychedelic tendencies, my, they grafted like a hard rock band, headlining venues across the UK, hosting club nights, and ending 2012 with the support slot on tour with Mercury Prize winners alt-J. So nobody would have been surprised if they’d have decided to take it easy for a while. Such is the world Stealing Sheep create with their music that imagining them as fairytale heroines merrily snoozing away for a couple of years seems perfectly feasible. But no, they were busy writing and recording this aptly-titled delight.

With ‘Not Real’, the trio show themselves to be more focused on electropop than previously, reinventing ways to use all things electronic and recycling everything, don’t yer know. Listen hard and you’ll hear the elements that come together to create a single swell – a squeeze box and a kettledrum coaxing along a keyboard melody, for example.

‘Deadlock’ could be sharpened up and released as a single, a bright spark DJ/producer should pick up ‘Apparition’ for a remix, and the album’s title track has a strong 80s echo, the repetitive keyboard hook hanging onto the driving beat like a ribbon in the wind. And while it’s the same for many of these songs (they are songs, not tracks), that would never be enough for 21st century ears, which is why Stealing Sheep make the most of every possibility. They have clearly learnt the rules so they can break them.

There is enough wandering off the path (fairytales again) to keep the psych-folk comments coming and maintain their reputation for unexpected yet delightful twists and turns within the songs. See ‘Evolve And Expand’ and ‘She’. But don’t equate references to female harmonies and psychedelia to images of rainbows and unicorns. Feel free instead to visualise sun-dappled fields with wild flowers of yellow, purple, pink and blue, hidden in the green; the deep heat beneath a pile of autumn leaves; the sky as a storm begins to brew; riding on a cloud without a saddle. There’s ‘Sunk’, ‘This Time’, ‘Greed’, right there.

There’s no attempt here to create visual-theatre-with-sound in the old-school Orbital or Ultramarine way, which once rightly had me so hooked. This is entirely fresh and challenging. Is it electronic music? Is it pop? Indie? Folk? Does it matter if we’re dancing? The fact that Stealing Sheep are signed to Heavenly, also home to St Etienne, makes perfect sense now.

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