Stealing Sheep

Not Real

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On their 2012 debut, Liverpool psych-pop trio Stealing Sheep perfected the self-described "Medieval Kraut-folk" that they'd introduced two years prior via a trio of well-received EPs. Not Real, the band's sophomore long-player, eschews that penchant for pairing brooding, heathen folk-rock with shimmery, late-'90s dream pop in favor of a more accessible approach that seasons their circular harmonies and serpentine melodies with liberal dollops of icy electronica. More Alt-J than Smoke Fairies, the ten-track set manages to retain the offbeat lyricism and subtle, supernatural vibe of its predecessor, but Rebecca Hawley, Emily Lansley, and Lucy Mercer are clearly attempting to expand their sonic palette (as well as reach a broader audience) this time around. The album opens in fine form with the glossy, club-ready "Sequence," a lineal, post-midnight blast of glacial synth-pop that falls somewhere between Wild Beasts and Warpaint. The pulsing, ghostly "Apparition" and the meaty, off-kilter title cut follow suit, but things begin to shift with the dizzying "This Time," a Lush and Broadcast-inspired, neo-Brit-pop gem that wraps a nervy, elastic guitar line around a simple two-chord melody that, once deposited into the listener's ear canal, sets up permanent residence. The elliptical "Greed" navigates similar aural pathways with its insistent, raga-like melody and incantation of "greed, you're everything I want, but not what I need," as does the spartan "Evolve and Expand," a macabre, Twin Peaks-ian ballad that pairs a lone, finger-picked guitar with Hawley, Lansley, and Mercer's distinctive and spectral harmonies. Not Real ends up more or less back where it started, with "Love" and "She" mirroring the punchy, '80s retro-pop of its beginnings, but it never fails to engender a sense of unease. Despite their best efforts to thwart it, Stealing Sheep's intoxicating otherworldliness ultimately wins out.

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