Laura Marling is joined by Mike Lindsay of indie folk outfit Tunng for a short record of the most experimental music of her career.
LUMP was recorded last year, at Lindsay’s London studio, shortly before the release of last year’s Semper Femina, and captures Marling’s songwriting voice between that record and 2015’s Short Movie, her storytelling retaining the latter’s maximalist eccentricity and the former’s interest in a number of surrealist painters of the first half of the last century. Its six songs spin a web through childhood fairytales, a walk through a forest scored by chiming woodwinds, horns and dark synths. “Take your seat next to the woman in white/by candlelight/don’t wear your smiley-face t-shirt tonight,” she instructs newcomers, painting a vivid steampunk music festival in the sky to encourage entrance.
If that sounds a bit fantastical, more kid-psychedelic then the Marling who is regularly nominated for Brit awards and has been followed by The New Yorker since the inception of her career, avid listeners should not be concerned. These are songs about disenchantment & insular agony, torment. The press release announces that they “slice through the apparent emptiness of contemporary life.” As a lyricist, her writing has always been focused on world-building and here, joined by Lindsay’s range of old school electronica, the result feels like proper science-fiction, the Frankenstein stuff of black hearts.
The lumps themselves, however, are pure fantastical: a species of large furry yeti, one of whom can be seen dancing on the album cover. They name was selected by Marling’s six-year-old goddaughter and, on the record, they are evoke the sincere whimsy of Maurice Sendak. “Please don’t leave your bed in a mess/just in case you get some new guest,” captures Marling capable of embodying the stern mother as much as the wayward beast. Her voice inhabits a crab trapped inside its own shell, charts the colors she paints on the sky overhead.
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In the music video for “Curse of the Contemporary,” one of the lumps—they bring to mind the quirky soundsuits that made the career of the other Nick Cave— performs an interpretive dance about the ennui of LA life.
It is a city that subject Marling has sung about before, following her move to Silver Lake in 2013, where she suffered an “existential meltdown” and consequently returned to London to sing about it. It is the album’s most straightforward song and the one most like Marling’s regular work, her folk-rock chant breaking through electro-mist like a spotlight. The chanting chorus recalls Let England Shake-era PJ Harvey.
Lindsay’s last record was another collaboration, that time with Sam Genders, fellow Tunng bandmate, which was called Throws and was released in 2016 on Thrill Jockey. The muttering keyboard on “Bask” anticipates his sound on LUMP, extended chiming synths that drape Marling’s world with a backdrop to perform, like the melancholy yeti— a bitter dance against the dark. The record comes into its own—a place of bold experimentation with luminous rewards— when Marling works closer inside Lindsay’s sea of analog synthesizers, a sound that he has called a “cyclical drone journey.” Her voice can sound deadpan, like the author-narrator of a relaxed adventure tale. Against the dark and brooding compositions, the entire record written in the same key, unrelenting, Marling’s lyrical fairytales have the effect of a David Lowery movie.
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The cinematic touch is doubled, too, when the album closes with a reading aloud of the personnel involved in the recording and production of the record. She has explained this is a way of providing the kind of credit often invisible in products of the streaming age. (on the vinyl release, the track is more artistically warped with reverb because you can more easily read the names on the 12” sleeve.) But it also feels like the credits that rise at the end of an ambien fantasia, time to get up out of our seats. Or to sit back down and start it all over again.
LUMP is out now on Dead Oceans.