Is This Music, December 2006 [4/5]

‘For The Grains Of Sand’ is the long-awaited (well, in some circles!) debut album from Edinburgh slo-core enthusiasts Northern Alliance and, as expected, it’s packed full of wondrous, slow, swirling guitar epics that entwine themselves in the listeners subconscious. Which is nice.Two exquisite mini albums have surfaced previously (the self-released ‘Hope In Little Things’ and ‘Disaster For Scotland’ on Fence Records) but this full-length effort sees the band developing the depth of their songwriting and overall sound. Lead singer Doug Johnstone (Scotland’s answer to Mark Linkous?) has a voice that, while hardly ever fully in tune, possesses a certain haunting, melodic quality that helps to pull him through. The fuzzy, loping, shuffling rock of ‘Shock Of The New’ exemplifies the band’s development and is an early album highlight, along with the wonderfully hypnotic ‘Line In The Sand’. The album’s peak though, could well be the glorious ‘Scaffolding’, whose beauty hinges on a stunning contribution from female vocalist Vivien Strachan. Lyrically, the band concern themselves with the “wide-eyed terror of parenthood, wasted years, abandoned relationships and an obsession with death and suicide.” But it’s not all doom and gloom, as the optimistic, parental closer ‘Band Of Hope’ testifies. Yet to make a name for themselves live, the band are embarking on a few rare dates in November to promote the album, and if they’re playing near you I’d suggest you get yourself along. You won’t regret. If your ears are working properly, you’ll love this.

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