Lera Lynn’s songs riddled the second season of True Detective like a disease. As almost a microcosm of the series itself, they were bleak close to the point of self-parody, lyrically obscure, often completely overblown. But, like the series, they summoned a darkness so total and natural that it sucked you in. What you were left with was desolate, emotionally blasted, almost overwhelming. The music was sparse, for the most part just voice and guitar, and Lynn herself sounded like bare bones. She was so evanescent that you felt a strong breeze might kick up and she’d disappear. Her music outside of the show has sounded compromised by comparison.
With ‘Resistor’, she may finally have arrived. What’s immediately striking across the first few tracks, in contrast with the meandering minimalism of her True Detective score, is the muscularity of the music. ‘Resistor’ maintains a stripped-down sound, but the music is leaner and more propulsive than any she’s made before, such as in the bare, angular guitar riff pushing through the opener ‘Shape Shifter’; in ‘Drive’, thick, elliptical bass notes and reverberating guitar chords open into the expanding rush of the chorus.
On True Detective numbers like ‘The Only Thing Worth Fighting For’ and the brutal ‘It Only Takes One Shot’, Lynn’s vocals had a despondency bordering on, and often pushing into, total fatalism. Here, though, she has a biting, sardonic edge. There’s a pointed toughness all over this music, a sharp, confrontational tone that harks to Young Marble Giants as much as it does PJ Harvey.
Some of this momentum naturally dissipates as the album winds on and the songs become more abstract musically and more digressive in approach. Some of Lynn’s weaknesses – a tendency towards ponderousness; a habit of letting songs drift into near inertia – begin to surface. Tracks like ‘Run the Night’, ‘Fade into Black’ and ‘Slow Motion Countdown’ sow enough seeds of noir-ish murk to keep you listening, but with each running well over five minutes, they take the album off the boil. Call them musically expansive if you like, but the piling up of such meandering, half-tempo songs, does no favours to a performer like Lynn. She’s so arresting when there’s a risk in the music; here she sounds like she’s playing it safe.
On the closing tracks, the creeping ‘Scratch + Burn’ and the sleazy, easy-rolling blues ‘Little Ruby’ (“I thought you were just a pretty little waitress” she sings with an audible leer), the lethargic pace begins to sound purposeful. There’s something calculated about ‘Scratch + Burn’, a threat in the hesitant cadence the jutting guitar chords set, Lynn’s vocals chilly, distant, almost deranged in the monotony as she sings “Staring without blinking into each others eyes/Love through suffering and sacrifice and bliss.”
There are murmurings all through this record of the ineffable, displacing performer Lera Lynn undoubtedly can be. The tentative, almost reflexive, mediocrity of some of the material is disappointing next to such moments of intrigue, but there’s a mystery lurking in Lynn’s music that is unlikely to reveal itself quickly.
‘Resistor’ is out on the 29th of April via Pledge Music.
This Lera Lynn article was written by James Dawson, a Gigsoup Contributor. Edited by Stephen Butchard.