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Home Counties *
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  • The members of Saint Etienne began work on their ninth album with a basic concept in mind of paying tribute to the suburbs of London where the trio spent their formative years. Titled Home Counties, the album was recorded quickly with producer Shawn Lee and a room full of vintage gear and instruments. Thanks to that, the record Home Counties most resembles in their discography is Good Humor, but where that album exuded a cool Scandinavian sheen, this one is warm and inviting. Lee's production doesn't lean on machines, though they are certainly present. Instead, Sarah Cracknell's unfailingly cozy vocals are surrounded by guitars, vocal harmonies, and old keyboards in arrangements that take in swinging '60s sounds, sparkling '90s pop, and even a few that wouldn't sound out of place on 2017 pop radio, especially the Richard X-co-produced, ELO-quoting "Out of My Mind." Throw in some lightly bouncy Belle and Sebastian-style indie pop ("Train Drivers in Eyeliner"), wonderfully cheesy disco ("Dive"), stomping Northern soul ("Underneath the Apple Tree"), and melancholy baroque pop ("Take It All In"), and it makes for the band's most varied-sounding album and, even more than Good Humor, feels like the result of a working band getting together in the studio to play together, even though it is mostly Lee providing the sounds. Like their last album, Words and Music by Saint Etienne, and to be honest, music of their catalog, Home Counties can be achingly nostalgic, and many of the songs have a sepia-toned sadness about them. Unlike on Words, the sound here usually matches the feeling, and it makes for the band's most emotionally affecting album. They are never going to be the type of group to spill blood in their lyrics, but songs like "What Kind of World" and "After Hebden" have a deep impact. Combining tear-stained words with sweet-as-pie melodies has been a trick the trio have pulled off with ease over their long career, and their skill hasn't deserted them yet. Even the catchy, lighthearted songs like "Magpie Eyes" have a melancholy core; so do the more modern-sounding tracks like the icy synth pop-informed "Heather." It's rare that a band is good for a couple years, even more so if able to keep it going for a decade. With Home Counties, Pete Wiggs, Bob Stanley, and Sarah Cracknell have been making beautiful, fun, and deceptively tricky music for almost 30 years without a noticeable dip in quality. In fact, one could argue that this album is the work of a band at the top of its game. It may not be flashy like their early work, experimental like some of their mid-period albums, or punchy like Words and Music, but the album takes in elements of everything they've done along the way and repurposes it in a lovely, extremely satisfying fashion. ~ Tim Sendra
Professional Reviews
Uncut - "A pop band with a keen eye for emotional geography, the longstanding firm of Cracknell, Stanley & Wiggs turned their gaze on the outer suburbs of London for their ninth LP."

Clash (Magazine) - "The band's approach to music-making has always been as eclectic as their references....`Take It All In' and `Underneath The Apple Tree' dips into their love of `60s production..."
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