Cloth’s music has always thrived on a kind of voyeuristic intimacy. Hushed, twilight atmospherics, the duo – in reality Glasgow’s Rachael and Paul Swinton – won praise with their debut album, causing word of mouth ripples in the process. Picked to appear on the soundtrack of Irish psychological shag-a-thon Normal People, the scarcity of new music only seemed to add to their allure.
So, a second album, then. Another bite at the cherry. ‘Secret Measure’ contains 10 tracks, and while it can never quite re-capture the quicksilver of their debut it’s nonetheless a riveting second chapter, providing subtle advancements in the process. Opening with the title song, the choppy guitars interlock against decaying synths, with Rachael Swinton’s voice little more than a whisper.
‘Never Know’ reduces the guitar lines to harmonics, giving the impression of fracturing ice or glass. This brittle intensity is a Cloth hallmark – closer ‘Blue Space’ utilises many of these sonic tricks, and this commitment to minimalism allows the etching of their songwriting to come through with more intensity.
Amid the pervading atmosphere the lyrics emerge in snatches, almost over-heard. Pleasingly prosaic song titles like ‘Pigeon’ and ‘Ambulance’ mask the poetry therein, but ‘Secret Measure’ is also unafraid to be direct. For all its quiet dissonance, ‘Drips’ is a neat pop song, reminiscent of – and we are far from the first to suggest this – Mercury winning types The xx.
A record of nuance and skill, ‘Secret Measure’ is outwardly monochrome, with its use of colour only becoming apparent on subsequent listens. Ali Chant handles production, and this decision seems to unlock something additional within Cloth, adding heft, and no small degree of muscle in the process.
Often moving, and never dull, ‘Secret Measure’ is a softly thrilling return, assured in its place in the world.
Words: Robin Murray