words fae michaela barton (@MichaelaBarton_)
A successful experimental collaboration between two very distinct musicians is about as rare as spotting a dancing yeti. However, seeing that such a yeti is present in LUMP’s music videos and album art, it appears this fabled occurrence has finally come true.
A musical collaboration between Laura Marling and Tunng’s Mike Lindsay sounds pretty much exactly how you’d expect it. Marling takes the lead with vocals, bringing her signature poetic lyrics with her, whereas the instrumentals are mostly written by Lindsay and continue his usual relaxed, electronic compositions.
With first listening, opening track Late to the Flight sounds like Marling’s recent work, with calm guitar and laidback vocals, with only a distant hint of electronic hum. However, there’s still a definite new musical layer added by Lindsay – subtle enough to not be over-powering and ward off traditional Marling fans but enough to assure that this is an experimental collaboration and won’t be just more of the same old. Of course, Marling fans should be well used to a little experimentation as the singer has never shied away from it in her previous work. Regardless, this will be the first album to focus more heavily on modern instrumentals, with Lindsay proving the importance of composing instrumentals with as much care as crafting lyrics.
Marling’s vocal range is allowed full freedom in this album, though her often preferred tenor growl is present in many verses, choruses allow a rare vocal jaunt into the mezzo-soprano. May I be the Light is one such song that plays with hauntingly drawn out croons adding a bright lilt to the song. Lindsay keeps the synth instrumentals reserved to allow Marling’s vocals centre stage. The synths create a night-time feel, with an undercurrent of 80’s Bladerunner score. A growing urgency is added in the choruses with a galloping drum beat and the simple, monotone synth pattern raises in pitch along with Marling’s vocals in the chorus, mirroring her sudden elation.
The first notes of Rolling Thunder are mystical and weirdly wonderful, with hints of Kate Bush. The whole song sounds at odds with itself but in a very purposeful way. It’s intended oddity with the storm of abstractness being part of the charm. The lyrics are filled with odd, evocative imagery. Every line starts with “I’m a” or “We are” or “You” and there are multiple identities explored throughout the song, highlighting how everyone is more complex than just one title. Just like in her previous album Semper Femina, Marling plays with gender, subverting the usual binary constraints in lyrical perspective with repeated lines like “I’m your mother, I’m your father”, refusing to adhere to restricted gender roles in art. The chorus line “I’m a man, of a certain kind. I’m a woman, of a certain space and time” could be critiquing gender identity roles – men being allowed to choose their identity whereas women have their labels thrust upon them depending on when they exist and what they choose to do or wear. Rolling Thunder is the first track on the album to really show off Lindsay’s electronic musical layering skills and introduces listeners to the more playful, LSD-trip sounding songs.
Curse of the Contemporary was the first song released on the album and performs everything this debut intended. Marling’s vocal talent is at full force in this track, exploring the usually ignored higher notes and layering vocals to allow full submersion for the listener. Lindsay’s talents in instrumentals and tempo are also on point. The melody explores uncommon chord patterns in western music, with the verse almost following traditional Japanese melodies. There’s a musical energy brought by the arrangement and layering of instruments, without simply having to rely on loud percussions. The lyrics explore a well-known subject area for Marling, that of living in California from an outsider perspective. The song warns the listener of the escapist, often vain lifestyle in California.
Marling’s lyrics always seem to circle back to a feeling of dissatisfaction. In the running synth bass, 80’s arcade game sounding track Hand Hold Hero, lyrics discuss feeling trapped. “Oh my back to the wall, better that than trip and fall” seems to discuss the musical tendency to stick to what you know and not experiment, in case you fail to please your audience, something which Marling probably feared when writing for this collaboration. Shake your Shelter is again about feeling trapped, using the imagery of a naked crab desperately trying to find a home but feeling bored when stuck in one shell for too long. The lyrics are repeated throughout over a simple instrumental, with a layering effect on Marling’s vocals, which could signify the repetitive, monotonous cycle of life.
The final track – LUMP is a Product – is just an audio credits over music, which is helpful as a reviewer as we now know who to give credit to. However, as just a casual listener, it is a little strange and will likely be skipped on repeated listens, which reduces the total number of actual songs on this album to only six.
The only real critique for this album is that it left you wanting more. More songs and more abstract experimentation of traditional musical form. Lindsay seemed relatively timid throughout the album, only really getting to fully stretch his composing wings is songs like Curse of the Contemporary and Rolling Thunder. Despite this, the pairing or Marling and Lindsay seemed to work surprisingly well, hopefully, they’ll try collaborating again in the future and this time feel confident enough to fully immerse themselves into their new direction.