Music for Nighthawks

Posted by in June's Magazine

Graham Ross waxes lyrical about a quietly sensational new album from Edinburgh based band Sanna

There are some strange moments in life when you feel positively disconnected from everything but still connected to an invisible something. As if you’re the only person in the world who gets it; the only one who knows the score, but doesn’t know why. It’s not arrogance, it’s just that there’s a feeling in your core that everything’s going to be all right, and all the anxieties which plague the darkest hour before dawn are finally being put to rest by something out of your control. Everything is falling right into place. If you’d like to take that fall but feel that you’d need a hand to hold on the journey, then I’ve found one for you.


From left, Graham Clarke, Sylvia Bell and Martin O’Donnell

Carbon Compound Combinations is the long-awaited debut album from Sanna, which is being released on 18 May. The album is a dark, gentle cacophony of perfectly formed songs by a band who have honed their own sound and style to the point that it defies description. 

In a previous review of one of the band’s gigs, I offered the following: ‘ethereal pop, ‘echo melodic’ and ‘a hypnotic road trip into the dark’. I still don’t think that any of these really nail it, but on listening to the album over and over again, it’s a road trip that I would recommend to everyone.

Sanna are Graham Clarke on vocals, melodica and stones; Sylvia Bell on cello, clarinet, vocals and keys; and Martin O’Donnell on guitar, synths, drum machine and backing vocals. Cameron Newell guests on fiddle.

It’s not possible to cover every track on the album in this short review, but from the opening Hibernate to The Grounds So Far Away which completes the 14-track album, the band have created a beautifully performed chain of haunting and ethereal tunes which get better with every listen. 

Clarke’s sublime vocals are perfectly suited to the lyrics, which veer from sweetly reassuring to darkly menacing as if he switches from being the man in the white suit to a strangely tender grim reaper. Bell’s harmonies, O’Donnell’s ranging guitars, and perfectly pitched string arrangements provide the glue that melds everything into a sublimely crafted album.

On a first listen to Transformation it became obvious that this was a track that ideally, should be listened to in the dark. Opening with soporific, dream-like guitar, Clarke’s vocals soar above and below, while Bell’s clarinet weaves connecting patterns back and forth leaving us with three minutes and nineteen seconds of pure bliss. Listen to it in the dark and you’ll swear that it lasts for hours. 

It’s hard to believe a song lasting just one minute fifty-four seconds could have such an impact, but Sanna achieve it on Remember 6

Suppose is a short, deceptively simple number that provides the perfect vehicle for Clarke and Bell to showcase their gentle, watertight harmonies. It’s strangely disconcerting listening to those bewitching voices singing lyrics like: “…terrorise your neighbourhood, wreck some other heart and knew you could”. But believe me, it works.

There are plenty of songs out there that immediately grab hold of you and won’t let go and it’s hard to believe a song that lasts just one minute and fifty-four seconds could have such an impact, but Sanna achieve it with Remember 6. For its size, it’s a short, heart-wrenching blinder of a tune, punching well above its weight. 

In an album which is full of exceptionally strong songs, it’s not easy, and it wouldn’t make sense to choose favourites as everyone will have their own opinions, but if pushed, I would have to pick out three personal highlights: Elements; Sailor Farmer; and Divine and Conquer. They’re all individually up there in their own right but they capture everything that I love about Sanna – there’s no pretension, no frippery, and no over production. 

They’ve scaled everything down to what’s essential to make great music – only the lyrics required to tell the tale, the melodies to navigate the bumps in the road and really strong tunes to carry the whole shebang to the finishing line. 

So, talking about being connected or disconnected, I would urge you to get hold of this album and let Sanna disentangle you from whatever’s holding you down and take you to places you’ve heard of but never been. 

Some people might criticise the album for being slightly one-paced but I would argue that this is its strength – they don’t want to drag you there, they just want you to let go gently.

Info: Carbon Compound Combinations is out now on KWAMYC records – available on vinyl from Assai Records, Underground Solu’shn and Elvis Shakespeare.

Leave a Reply

Your e-mail address will not be published. Required fields are marked *