The temptation on hearing that the much esteemed pair of Laura Marling and Mike Lindsay (Tunng) have combined forces is to assume their music will be just a nuanced blend of their individual musical styles. But, unlike many super-group ego projects, often weighted down by noodling, what really sets this duo’s self-titled album apart is its commitment to a clearly organic sonic development between the pair. Push them together, and a LUMP is what you get.
Their partnership emerged after a meeting at a Neil Young gig in London, at which Marling was the support. Inviting her to contribute lyrics and vocals to a sound-cycle he had composed, the album was put together at Lindsay’s basement studio.
On top of the collaboration between the pair, videos have also been created for lead single ‘Curse of the Contemporary’ and its nominal B-side (and album opener) ‘Late to the Flight’, featuring a free-spirited ginger eyeless Chewbacca attempting to break free of its domestic setting. Directed by Esteban Diacono, and fully-animated using motion-capture, the videos combine the overall sound of LUMP with some of the concepts in the songs’ lyrics. In another example of the project’s organic nature, the creature has become the mascot of the project, appearing on the album’s cover and alongside Marling and Lindsay in promo photos. As a final tip of the hat to its origins, the album’s closing track serves as its credits, Marling’s voice listing the contributors before stating, over and over again, “Lump is a product”.
A lo-fi tale of a middle-aged “crooner in crisis”, backed by twangy guitar, ‘Late to the Flight’ has Marling’s overlaid vocals commencing solitarily and echoing as the song continues. It’s reflective of the song’s story and its character’s split personalities of a gambler, teen in a smiley t-shirt and a dreamer, picturing its narrator. It’s arguably the most folky song on the album but the Moog underlays pave the way for second track ‘May I Be The Light’. Here, Marling spouts near-nonsense ‘moon/june’ verse lyrics in a robotic fashion over electronic beats that throb, sparse percussion and flute. If the verse’s lyrics might bear out the reference to Edward Lear’s work in the accompanying press, the chorus here is more explicable: “It’s a sign of the times”.
The album’s central track (‘Rolling Thunder’) is its stand-out – an unexpected, spectacular piece of neo-soul, built around Marling’s stunning vocals and the hum from the previous track, which turns into lite-funk spirals around her. “We were born under rolling thunder”, Marling intones before spitting “I’m your mother/ I’m your father/ Be a man…” as the track starts to crescendo. Amongst the many lyrics hinting at a generation bent on its own destruction, the words “New Atlantis” stick out, as does Hannah Peel’s all-too-brief blast of trumpet, scowling all over the middle eight.
‘Curse of the Contemporary’ is an all together different bit of alt.pop, its picked guitar may be reminiscent of ’60s Cali folk-rock, but its off-key wonkiness is a perfect reflection of the broken-down world in its lyrics. As couplets go – “If you should be bored in California / I’m sure I’m not the last to warn ya” – they don’t get more seductively sinister. Later, Marling makes the message clear – “We can’t believe what we’ve become / Something else to prey upon / Evidently, another vanity / Another something to believe”. The emptiness of the image and the cultural death of those who “salute the sun” are the targets here, as the guitars grow ever more ominous and the elements of the song collide and, finally, cease.
‘Hand Hold Hero’ moves to Moroder-style synths whilst its vocals tilt towards Bobbie Gentry Americana, as Marling dissects our simplistic need for people to celebrate. Finally, ‘Shake Your Shelter’ is a trip-hoppy piece of work that finds Marling going angelic acapella in its chorus before her voices double, triple and expand over Lindsay’s synthwork. Its drums roll back before the album’s music closes with the sound of shaking shells and a reedy drone.
As surprisingly hooky as it is experimental, LUMP is a twisted take on alt.pop that sucks you into its world, dazzles you with its warped instrumentation and leaves you humming fragments days after.
LUMP is out now via Dead Oceans.