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What The Fuck Is Happening in Northampton?

Yeah, what the fuck is happening in Northampton. Nothing for years, like nothing since the invention of the shoe or something, then the odd splat of culture in the shape of Bauhaus and The All New Adventures Of Us (spaced thirty years apart)… then sod all again. Even TANAOU disappeared off the radar after a phenomenal first album that we at Notion were keen to champion at the time – heck we even had one of them work here at Notion Towers for a bit – but that record was about five years ago. A dim radio silence seemed to have covered the hilly no-man’s-land between London and the Midlands in terrifying 1950’s b-movie style, leaving us to wonder if aliens had chosen there as their point of first contact/invasion or maybe the blonde-haired kids had taken over and killed all the adults.

Mere foreplay it would seem though as now Northampton is spunking out shot after shot of really great sounds, and at the centre of it all our friends at TANAOU and new record label The Shipping Forecast.

So firstly, let’s get the new TANAOU video out the way. Not as twee-mo as anything on their first album – more adult. It’s rubbish saying that as a review of something, but it really is. Do remember though it’s been half a decade. Ahem, guys! It continues on their theme of escaping a small town, or small town mentality anyway. There’s still that peppered consciousness of Arcade Fire, the moping guitars half thrashing / half twinkly and an overwhelming sense of cinematic gloom.

As if that’s not enough, some members of the band splintered off late last year to join the Mercury Prize nominated Maps’ Craig Brown in recording what would be a different, if not all that distant, record under the banner of An Escape Plan. It was made over Christmas, and you can hear that in the misty bitterness of its production, as overtures of cold depravity give way to shining warmth in a concrete and glass-of-sherry way. It’s unmistakably an album for summer though as first single ‘Ghosts’ exhibited the spectral of America’s fuzziest surf-folk bands, i.e. Yuck or Monsters Of Folk. Then came nestled amid your new year tree an EP, the focus of which was a cover of The Bee Gees‘ ‘Living Together’ that also soundtracked IKEA’s TV ad campaign this spring gathering over one million views on YouTube making it one of the most watched videos on the channel by somebody from the state of St Crispin.

And now ‘Coastlines’ looks to cause more damage. Easily their finest song and a triumphant listen on the album, Songs of Scarecrows, which is out now on The Shipping Forecast. It’s got a guitar riff that TANAOU fans might be accustomed to in the respect that it’s perfectly executed and catchy as fuck – think ‘Firetruck Doki Doki’ – quite haphazardly thrown out at various moments in this otherwise adorable and yearning take on Americana.

The Shipping Forecast have also put out a record by Newcastle bunch of folkers Sharks Took The Rest. Okay, so we’re veering off track here you’re thinking but the fact there’s a label not just releasing bands from it’s interior but actually signing those from further afield is a sure-fire sign there’s more to this whole thing than incestuous self congratulating. The album’s good too – a bit wet in places, but scrupulously quite imaginative and a nice accompaniment to An Escape Plan’s long player, them both sharing a love for classic British songwriting and impeccable use of strings, piano and production. The Quietus said of track ‘Bring Her Back’, “if anyone needs proof that there’s a talented set of pens at work here, take three minutes 18 seconds out of your day for a listen”, and it’s a very right-on comment to make as so many people brush past albums that require this much concentration, so we agree – give it three minutes 18 seconds.

There’s more coming up from this town as well, but we leave you with Applecore, a fantastic little zine that sums up the creativity of the place. This bedroom-produced collection of poetry, stories, ideas and anecdotes follows no formula, in fact it’s quite inconsistent, but in it’s few pages you’ll find the sum of Northampton’s intelligent twenty-something’s trying to escape, as TANAOU and An Escape Plan try through their music, this does through words.

There’s sod all happening anywhere else right now, so give Northampton a look.

- Dylan Harper

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