By Various Artists
If you procure Digital Northerner in the expectation of the latest bleepy electro-pop from the north of England then you're in for something of a shock. For this is no paean to the fluorescent delights of indie-dance crossover, but a reasoned argument in favour of the altogether less glamorous and oft-derided world of the region's singer songwriters.
If that dreaded phrase strikes fear into your heart then you're probably best off saving time and skipping to the next review. This collection is unlikely to suddenly turn you onto the gentler world of lilting acoustic instruments and evocative balladry. However, if you can cope with the odd downbeat moment between hedonistic forays into the moshpit then this broad and eclectic collection has much to commend it.
Denis Jones provides an hypnotic if unspectacular opener, '17' putting one in mind of Radiohead in unplugged mode. Isobel Heyworth's 'Best Dress On' will appeal to anyone who can cope with Beth Orton, and benefits from a broodingly repetitive arrangement. (And yes, this does actually feature some synth bleeps - albeit some extremely understated ones.)
Guitars are to the fore with Stickboy's offering - not just the obligatory strummed acoustic, but some countrified twanging accompaniment. If this cropped up when, for some reason, you'd been forced to sit through an 'open mic' night down the local boozer then you'd probably be pleasantly surprised. On the other hand, in the 'real' world (of me walking down the street with my iPod) I'd be more inclined to press skip. (If only such a feature were available at those open mic nights...)
And pressing skip on this album, as luck would have it, takes you to the sublime 'Pastel Coloured Sea' - a hauntingly fragile song accompanied only by piano and light percussion. Even if this album does little else, it prompts me to find out more about Kait DeVoy. On the other hand, I feel no such motivation to look up Mark Wilson whose tune, intentionally or perhaps just unfortunately, sounds to me like a rip-off of Green Day's already dull 'Time of Your Life'.
Liz Green has a phenomenal - and surely amongst contemporary performers, unique - voice, perfectly set off here by plaintive acoustic guitar and stand-up bass. I'm not sure 'Midnight Blues' is her best song, but it's certainly a worthy taster. It's certainly got far more to commend it than either the string-backed 'Deadweight to Disappear' or plodding 'That Secret War' that follow it (Aron Paul and Bone-Box, respectively) but in fairness to the album as a whole none of the dips in form are long enough for the disc to get ejected ahead of time.
Sara Lowes provides a Debussey-esque concoction of piano, flute and strings and a lighter-than-air vocal enhanced by somewhat ethereal female harmonies. Josephine Onlyama, on the other hand, has one of those more archetypal English folk voices - melodic but slightly rough at the edges, which offers up the comparatively inconsequential 'Davey'.
Neither the earnest offering by Rachael Kichenside or the downbeat one that follows from Steph Grant grab the attention particularly, although neither could be deemed offensive. The same could also be said of 'Open Up and Smile' by Kontiki Suite, although it could pass for being the throwaway offering of a late 60s country rock outfit with better songs up its sleeve; think of album filler from late-periods Byrds or Crosby, Stills and Nash if you will.
And finally, Frankie Teardrop may be Liz Green's male equivalent inasmuch as he's a voice out of time. The beat, however, is distinctly latin and the era in which this fellow might've been most home is maybe only 50 years past instead of 70. It's a dark yet jaunty closer to a worthwhile, if sometimes patchy, collection. Some of it's perhaps a little too content with being background music. But we all need a bit of that now and again, and there's certainly the odd moment that will rouse you from your torpor as you daydream idly in the armchair.