Sleeping States – ‘In the Gardens of the North’

November 7, 2009 § Leave a comment

Published: The Big Issue #341, November 2009.

In the Gardens of the North
Sleeping States
****

At a glance, there’s little outwardly distinctive about the fragile musical imaginings of Markland Starkie, the young Bristol-based savant behind Sleeping States.

As his luminous 2007 debut There the Open Spaces illustrated, the magic is in the detail. With only the tonal shimmer of a baritone guitar, a scattering of field recordings and his floating vibrato, the bedroom recordist wove one of the year’s most unlikely and unusually beautiful records.

In the Gardens of the North is quite a different beast. Though Starkie’s aptitude for minor key melody and self-sung harmonies remains, he has also expanded his palette. Bass, double-tracked guitars, more prominent drums and band dynamics fill out his economical arrangements, while literary references punctuate his diaristic lyrical sketches.

There are several successes – the lilting melody of ‘On the Beach…’ and swirling finale ‘The Cartographer’ – but it’s still Starkie’s simplest expressions that prove his most affecting. The barbershop harmonies of ‘Gardens in the South’ and the arcane guitar motif and crow caw of ‘Breathing Space’ are flashes of strange magic.

Indeed, Starkie’s ability to capture the minutiae remains his singular gift. While a tad more robust, In the Gardens of the North proves another delicate, quietly beautiful offering.

Dan Rule

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