‘Dead Fires & the Lonely Spark’ is the third album from Manchester-based collective Last Harbour, following previous highly-acclaimed releases and recent tours with Willard Grant Conspiracy and Mark Mulcahy. The seven-piece have returned with their most ambitious record yet, which veers from elegantly orchestrated soundscapes to full-blown electric dramas, encompassing birth, marriage and death along the way. Working with producer Richard Formby (Spacemen 3, Herman Dune, Dakota Suite), Last Harbour have turned their backs on the digital revolution, instead using antique equipment to record in glorious analogue onto 2” tape, creating a warm and atmospheric record. At first, ‘Dead Fires & the Lonely Spark’ might appear to be concerned primarily with the quiet disintegration of relationships, and it certainly focuses on the violence and tenderness of simple human fallibility. There are riotous and drunken weddings (‘Saint Luminous Bride’, ‘No-one Ever Said’) and lives torn apart by things done and those unsaid (‘The Further Field’). And, whilst there is no central narrative or character and each song inhabits its own environment, this collection of songs could thematically be considered a modern ‘play for today’, concerned as it is with social and moral conscience. But, it is also about how people are dwarfed by things beyond their control, and how they can be held prisoner or set free by circumstance. Primarily using instrumentation that might traditionally be associated with folk music, Last Harbour hammer and sculpt their sound into unusual and beguiling forms. Understated string arrangements (‘Broken Nail’) and wheeling pedal steel (‘Fires’) envelope some songs, whilst the tension in the album’s subject matter erupts into occasional bursts of declamatory noise (‘Science song’, ‘The Accident’). These contradictions in sound propel the album’s lyrical concerns with folklore and fire and brimstone imagery into the present day.