Diamond Mine: King Creosote & Jon Hopkins(2011)

Diamond Mine: King Creosote & Jon Hopkins (2011)

by Phil H

Diamond Mine: King Creosote & Jon Hopkins (2011)

Anstruther is a long way from most places, perched on the east coast of Scotland, looking out over the North Sea and buffeted by a chilly breeze.

By the time you've got up past Edinburgh and on to the A915, it feels like you've left city living a long way behind. Wrap up warm once you get there and walk down the narrow streets to the habour for a bag of award-winning fish and chips while you watch (and listen to) the boats bobbing about, and the charm of the place starts to impose itself. This is where Kenny Anderson, aka King Creosote, grew up before joining a couple of largely unsuccessful bands and running the local record shop until it went bust. Sneaking a few of his home-recorded CD-Rs into the racks didn't save the business but it did launch the Fence Collective, a gathering of like-minded musical eccentrics for which Anderson serves as a rather bashful figurehead.

He's continued to record albums at the rate of several a year since 1998, some of them receiving major label releases in more recent years. Those early records have an endearing lo-fi, rueful quality borne of a man who is all too familiar with a small town existence and life's little disappointments. Acoustic guitar, accordian, banjo and uncleared samples have all featured heavily on the way, along with Anderson's high yet world-weary voice which may flirt with melancholy but somehow usually ends up sounding slyly life affirming.

Anderson's sound has steadily got bigger for his non-Fence releases, but he's just too much of a musical oddball/restless soul to quite deliver easily digestible mainstream pop and his sales have remained stubbornly in the cult bracket. That stripped-back, lo-fi sound always suited his songs best to my mind, so Diamond Mine came as a pleasant surprise - just as I imagine the album's Mercury Prize nomination probably came as a big surprise to Anderson. Not that it's a return to his early sound as such, just a clearing of the decks to let Anderson deliver 7 of his most bruised and tender songs with minimal instrumentation over the velvety cushion of Jon Hopkins's ambient textures.

The two have worked together on and off for 7 years, with Hopkins originally brought in to give Anderson's major label releases a radio-friendly sheen as he's also provided for Coldplay and David Holmes. But his approach on Diamond Mine, a collection of tracks gathered from throughout those years yet still sounding remarkably cohesive, has much more in common with his work for Brian Eno on the Another Day On Earth and Small Craft On A Milk Sea albums, adding a subtle luminous undertow that's lush without ever overwhelming Anderson's gentle songs.

London-based Hopkins appears to have succumbed to Anstruther's charms, with his field recordings from the area woven into the songs, starting with local folk chatting in a shop (including a discussion of Granny Anderson's allergies) over gentle piano on opening track First Watch. The sense of location remains on John Taylor's Month Away, which starts with the couplet 'I love to look out at the sea/ From the swing park here at Roome Bay Beach', and tells the story not of the Duran Duran bassist out on the road but a friend spending a month 'on a boat 110 miles east of Aberdeen' as Anderson simple strumming is joined by the slow watery swell of Hopkins's synths and wordless vocals. If you're struggling with Anderson's Scottish burr, the lyrics are handily printed on a fold-out map that comes with the vinyl.

Aging has long been one of Anderson's lyrical preoccupations (my favourite being the blackly humorous Saffy Nool on 2005's Rocket D.I.Y. - 'You're growing old, you're growing tense/ I was past 35 before my face made much sense') and he's at it here again on Bats In The Attic, insisting 'I'm growing silver in my sideburns/ Starting to unravel' in the strange tale of a friend's novel over decaying piano chords and pattering drums.

Running On Fumes starts with drifting traffic before Anderson ruminates with dry humour about a friendship turned sour ('You and I we once looked fine / Until you split your lip against the side of my face') over gently plucked guitar and subtle backing vocals from Lisa Lindley-Jones, the song drifting into near silence before Hopkins creeps in with harmonium and slowly spiralling keyboards.

If side one is subtly marked by Anderson's self-effacing drollery, side two starts with heart firmly on sleeve with Bubble. A promise to a loved one that things will get better in hard times, the lines 'I won't let you fall as low as I've been/ I promise to crawl until I'm back on my feet' sound far more uplifting to the backdrop of banjo from Leo Abrahams (another Eno/Holmes collaborator) and Hopkins's swelling ambience than you might suspect.

Your Own Spell brings up the unlikely scenario of a summer drought in Fife, with Anderson deciding the best option is to let the roses die as Emma Smith plays beautiful violin. He pays tribute to his daughter in typically tender, sincere and yet self-mocking fashion on Your Young Voice, gently crooning 'It's your young voice that's keeping me holding on/ To my dull life, to my dull life'. Perhaps the humour in these songs is only really apparent if you've seen Anderson play live, with a daft wee smile and a joke never far away, however heartfelt the sentiment.

Anderson has described Diamond Mine as a "soundtrack to a romanticised version of a life lived in a Scottish coastal village" and with Hopkins' assistance, this intimate portrait of his roots manages to use the smallest of gestures to conjure up big emotions.

Phil H