Francis Jones finds himself drawn to Magnetic North
In 2005, distinguished solo artist and occasional Snow Patrol man Iain Archer released Flood The Tanks, an album imbued with a fragrant melancholy and sweeping grace. It received considerable critical acclaim.
It was inspired by the ‘loss of a loved one’ and what lingered was a sombre beauty and unsettling intimacy. Latest release, Magnetic North, isn't quite as singularly motivated, though it finds Bangor-born Archer in no less contemplative fettle.
The age-old narrative of love and loss weighs heavily in the artist’s ruminations. The most prevalent theme here is 'home'. What do we mean by 'home' - is it a state of mind or a geographical point? The titular magnetic north or some strange commingling of the physical, mental and spiritual?
The crevasse between experience and imagination and the bridge of nostalgia that traverses the two is examined with an intense lyrical insight.
This nostalgia takes many forms. The tender reminiscence of ‘Collect Yourself’ - chiming guitars creating a gentle panorama dotted with familiar images, be they the Lagan River or Belfast bonfires.
In ‘Luke’s Point’ the precise, Nick Drake-style finger-picking creates a respectful aural accompaniment to Archer’s hankering for a hopelessly irretrievable past. He describes it as ‘a recollection. Sometimes even just harking after a moment in time is enough to make you grieve.’
First single, ‘When It Kicks In’, is an altogether more raucous concern. Punishing rhythms unite with angular, fidgeting guitar to spark the track into life. The lyric recounts a young Archer’s experience of witnessing a limpit mine exploding on top of a police car.
‘The song’s a collage of those sorts of events. They make me absolutely livid. But at the time, they’re purely terrifying.’
Title track ‘Magnetic North’ demonstrates the breadth of the Ivor Novello winner's songwriting ability. It’s melodically bountiful and hook-laden, the choruses inescapably beautiful.
The opening ‘Canal Song’ is meandering and delicately expressive, ‘Minus Ten’ with its rueful lyric recalls Elliott Smith whilst the plinking, piano led ‘Arriero’ is a less bourbon-and-cigarette-lunged Tom Waits.
Despite the parade of preceding and commendable tracks, it's the last effort, ‘Lifeboat’, that makes the most potent impression. The insistent chords, luxuriant melody and ineffable sense of humanity is truly beautiful.
In Magnetic North Iain Archer has delivered a dignified, consummately crafted and achingly genuine album, a record to leave the listener in a state of wide-eyed wonder.