Formerly the musical output of Hugo Manuel, the line up in Jonquil now numbers six, and where previously the music was sparse, now there are loads of bloody instruments - and all the better for it.

I saw Jonquil live on the day they signed to Try Harder Records. Supporting Youthmovie Soundtrack Strategies, they were, to my memory, not very memorable. There seemed to be a lot of instruments being played but with very little impression being made. All the shuffling drums and brooding brass worked against rather than with each other. In short it was just the wrong side of ramshackle to be charming. On 'Lions', their second record - but first being six members strong - however, they've got it just right.

'Lily' is as impressive an album opener as you'll hear all year. It fills every inch of the room with huge, resonating strings, a strident, military drumbeat restraining them from soaring away. This track and 'Pencil, Paper' (equal in it's atmospheric and emotional pull) put Jonquil in the Explosions In The Sky and Mono bracket of unearthly musical wonder; only more English - like a Home Counties Sigur Ros. After the relative gentleness of the first few tracks, 'Babe, So Why No?' comes at just the right time to stop the attention wandering. With a continual stomp from a drum and the brass bustling in the background, it's like the upbeat hymn at school you didn't actually mind singing.

Hints of Arcade Fire waft up during the brief choral blast of the title track before we find Manuel going it alone on the achingly lovely, 'Here's To The Little Man'. There's intimacy between the performer and listener like never before, every deft pluck of a guitar string is followed by the quick sharp slide along to the next fret, that worn out windscreen wiper sound, and every line from Manuel's choirboy voice is preceded by a lick of the lips and a swallow. At several points you'll look around the room just to check he's definitely not next to you - especially when you hear the squeak of a seat as Manuel shifts his body and moves onto the next phase of fingerpicking.

Listening to 'Lions' from the comfort of your own home, the outside world becomes just that. Thoughts of cars and roads and buildings fade away, the mind lost in a world of trumpets magisterially sounding over Post Rock percussion and bell clear voices in chorus. This is a record that reaches right out of the stereo and gives those old heartstrings a good tug. After every track you're hoping for a longer one next, and come the close of 'Lions' it's not just track 1 that's made an impression, I can't imagine there'll be many albums to better this before we wave goodbye to 2007.

- Liam McGrady




1. Lily
2. Sudden Sun
3. Keep It In Keeping
4. Pencil, Paper
5. Babe, So Now Why No?
6. ------
7. Lions
8. Here's To The Little Man
9. Subtle Strains
10. Magdalen Bridge
11. Whistle Low
12. Sleepy Like Pudding
13. Shore
14. I Don't Need Advice

CD album

Out October 8th