"Time waits for no man, well time's passed me by. It's still you for who my soul's thirsting."
Time, and its inevitable passing, weighs heavy on Liam Frost's third album.
And as he found himself seeking answers to evergreen existential questions, prompted by tragic events in his personal life, he looked to his youth for the answers. Despite their inspiration, the resulting songs – 12 of them, each a meditation on love, death, ageing and finding a place in the world – are full of hope amid the heartache, finding bittersweet in the sadness.
Written through a filter of "what can sometimes feel like total helplessness", Smoke shines like a beacon.
In the aftermath of his mum passing away, he began sorting through her possessions. Among them, a box of memorabilia from the early days of his career. The "chequer-flag Vans and an old suit jacket" of what would become the song's opening line stared back at him from a 15-year-old press cutting, immediately taking him back to the days of innocence before his debut album was released.
The remainder of the song followed shortly after, bolstered by an emotional visit to a childhood haunt on the north-west coast, where raw grief and the weight of family history were succeeded with acceptance and responsibility.
"I don't believe in ghostly presences, despite the amount I've written about them in my songs," he says. "But I definitely felt something that day, my parents by my side."
Going Steady, the album's opener, and The Slow Knife, followed shortly after and explore similar themes, using the past to map out a path for the future.
"It's me working out where I go with a record at this point in my life, without a record label, dipping my toes back into my own music after what seems like a long time away."
While it is coming up to 10 years since his second album, We Ain't Got No Money, Honey, But We Got Rain, came out, there has been activity since then, notably a number of reunion shows with The Slowdown Family to celebrate the anniversary of Show Me How The Spectres Dance, released in 2006.
Buoyed by the reaction to those special events, it both reassured Liam that his audience were still listening, and showed him that if anything, even while he'd been away, it had grown.
"It's funny talking about that first album in terms of a tenth anniversary, like it's an Eagles record, but we were struck by the affection we received. It's a minority of people, but it's a very strong affection," he says. "I mean, I played a show in Manchester last year and someone in the front row fainted."
Crucially, the people who first fell in love with Liam's music have aged just as he has, experiencing life's ups and downs in the same way.
"Old fans were bringing their kids to my shows, some of them now young teenagers. I got a message from a young fan one day telling me that her dad was playing Show Me How The Spectres Dance when he was driving her mum to the hospital to give birth to her."
Proof, at a time when he needed it, that his songs have resonated beyond the bedroom in which they were written, beyond Manchester, but across the country, across oceans and now across generations. The ways in which we consume music may have dramatically changed, but connection, and a need for life to be soundtracked by beautiful music, will forever remain.
If Liam's digging into his past pushed him to march onward, sparking a six-month period of immense creativity, it also laid a template for the album's sound. The Latchkey Kid wears Liam's love of Americana proudly on its sleeve, although this is no mere stylistic affectation, this music has been his biggest source of inspiration and joy since his teenage years.
Cast back into the mindset of his early 20s, he found himself reaching for the records he loved back then. The likes of Ryan Adams, Whiskeytown, Josh Rouse, early Bright Eyes, Josh Ritter and more. Melded with Liam's characteristically north-western delivery, the result is pure idiosyncrasy. Alt-country, if the countryside in question was the Peak District rather than Nebraska. The electric shuffle of Didn't It Rain, the album's fourth track, is Ryan Adams' To Be Young had Adams been born and raised in Prestwich.
Elsewhere on the album, there are two tracks that will be familiar to Liam fans – Who's Gonna Love You? and When I'm Alone – re-recorded and reimagined, and thoroughly deserving of the chance to shine on an album.
While the record's creative starting point and writing were significant, the recording sessions were every bit as vital. Taking place over three days in Liverpool's Parr Street, there were time constraints, effectively there was one chance to get it right, but Liam and the band he assembled were adamant they would make a positive of any pressure.
"I've always believed that something is lost somewhere between the vibrancy of a demo version of a song and the final recording," says Liam. "And Roo Walker, the guitarist and producer of this album, said my best vocal take is always my first or second pass, as it's an honest reaction to what I've written."
Using that idea for the rest of the band, Liam wanted to capture on tape that urgency, with vibrancy and feel more important than perfection.
"People are so obsessed with how a kick drum sounds, but on some of the records I love more than any others, the kick drum sounds like someone smacking a biscuit tin. Ultimately, it's not important if you can bottle the right energy."
For proof it worked, listen no further than the effortless Hall of Mirrors, Rope of Sand, or the swampy blues of Mercy Me!
The past, present and future have come together on an album of rare quality, with Liam delivering a record that encapsulates who he was, who he's become and his hopes for what's ahead.
"I've always just wanted to be honest with my songwriting," he says. "And it offers comfort, to exorcise the demons and emotions that are too much to deal with away from a song – I couldn't say these things out loud, but sending these missives out into the world is a valuable thing. It also lets people know they're not alone.
"Without digging deep, like I have done, I might as well be doing covers. It all comes from an honest place – that's all I've ever wanted to do."
Andy Welch, 2018