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Keith: Up In The Clouds

Manchester’s best kept secret are back, and as willfully wonderful as ever. Up In The Clouds is the new single from Keith, and the first taste of Vice & Virtue, their astonishing new album. Vice & Virtue sees Keith working with white-hot producer Dan Carey, whose varied credits include Hot Chip, Kylie, Kelis, Sly & Robbie and the forthcoming Franz Ferdinand album.

Built on a rumbling bass groove, Up In The Clouds bursts with attitude and swagger, a squall of scattergun riffs and double-quick drums ; then surprisingly a jazz break is the eye of the storm. Singer Oli Bayston says the studio jam from which the song came “hit on something heavier and more intense than ever before.” With lyrics consciously adding contrasting dreams of love’s escapism, the whole is coupled with the touch of ‘otherness’ that typifies Keith’s work.

On the B-side, another belter: Welcome To My Fairground intertwines acoustic and electric guitars with Bayston’s athletic half sung, half-spat vocal ; driving rhythms and melodies stubbornly refusing to follow the conventions of pop songwriting. In other words, no less than we’d expect from one of Britain’s most inventive young bands.

Two years ago, Keith’s debut album Red Thread was hailed a cult treasure – adored by many, ignored by more, and embraced by thousands of pre-emptive Japanese teens. Since then, ideas that flickered in their debut have become mainstream absorbed, but Keith, ever on the fringes, are still producing music that defies easy categorisation.

As a band, Keith’s skill is in blending their many strands of influence together, be it indie, African, krautrock, jazz or techno. Their magic, meanwhile, is in their searching song-writing and musicianship. These guys can really play, which is why they’ve been able to recreate the feel of Tony Allen’s afrobeats on ‘La Ritournelle’ whilst backing French superstar Sebastien Tellier on early London dates, and performed with former Can frontman Damo Suzuki. They even appeared (uncredited) on Lily Allen’s Alright, Still.

Musical scholarship brought these four together in the first place: vocalist/keys player Oli Bayston, guitarist Mark Nicholls, bassist John Waddington (also the band’s graphic artist) and drummer Johnny Winbolt-Lewis met at university in Warrington, a satellite of The University of Manchester. Relocating to Manchester proper on graduation, they brought a new flavour to the local live scene, music with links to Manchester greats The Smiths and Joy Division, but with a depth, weight and groove stretching beyond.

Having delivered a debut album of broad strokes and varied styles, Vice & Virtue finds them focused on producing an ambitiously accomplished follow-up, with texture, tone and – importantly – tunes.

We’ve taken a turn for the psychedelic on Vice And Virtue,” says Oli. “Up In The Clouds is our mission statement.”