When Picky B’s favourite Laura Marling and Tunng’s Mike Lindsay announced they were collaborating on a ‘drone performance album’ back in 2018, it was so unexpected, that none of us knew quite whether it was better than we thought it’d be or not. In the end, their self-titled album felt more like a single performance, that definitely came alive as a front-to-back performance on their tour of tiny UK venues, with the drone that sat beneath everything the true star of the show. If you didn’t enjoy a drone, you weren’t going to enjoy LUMP.
The drone is back on Animal, but Marling and Lindsay are absolutely not in the same place musically as they were back then. Laura’s just had huge success with her most straightforwardly folk album yet, so perhaps that explains why Animal feels like such a step up as an ‘experiment’. They may claim that ‘Lump is a product’, but on this album LUMP is no longer just a surprising collaboration; it’s a band.
As an opener, ‘Bloom All Night’ sets things up for the listen ahead as a fully-fledged ‘song’. Yes, everything here still blends into each other. Yes, there are drones underneath. But you could listen to songs like ‘We Cannot Resist’, ‘Gamma Ray’ and the title track individually and they work brilliantly as one off songs.
Is this a good thing? For me it makes Animal way more accessible as a ‘listen’ than the debut album was, even if it’s way less left-field. The title track especially is danceable and catchy, two words you’d be hard-pressed to use to describe any other Laura Marling song. It can sometimes feel a step too far away from their respective sounds, but for me that’s exactly what makes this partnership so interesting.
The lyrics are where the biggest step up can be found from that debut album. Here, it’s a lot more direct and to the point, straying away from the more obtuse lyrics from back then. On ‘Climb Every Wall’, lyrics come fast and pinpoint the feeling of being stuck; ‘Thumbing through a box of convention/You pulled on what you ought to expect/Deliberate acts of pretension/Have shackled your arms to the deck’.
There’s a thrilling energy on many of the songs here, especially at the start of the record. Could I even imagine some banging ‘remixes’ of these tracks? As weird as that sounds yes. As each song blends into the next, it’s ‘Red Snakes’ that suddenly stands out with its delicate performance and almost eerie production. ‘Paradise’ ramps up this threatening sound, like something’s about to kick off and it does so with reverby 70s guitars and dissonant backing vocals.
As we head towards the end of the album, ‘Oberon’ feels like one of the shining ‘drone’ moments of the record, the vocals sitting stark against the empty music behind it. It’s the closest thing to anything from the debut here, but, like that, it’s gone – and the closing track, Phantom Limb, returns to feeling more like a ‘single’ across its six minute run time. We’re treated to Laura reading out the alum credits once more, explaining that LUMP indeed is still a product, and surprisingly that Laura herself performed Bass Clarinet on the album.
LUMP felt like an interesting diversion for two very different performers, but Animal feels like a fully fledged ‘Album’. Is some of the weird magic lost by moving in a slightly more traditional ‘Alternative’ direction? Maybe it is, but I definitely enjoyed the tracks here quite a lot. It feels like a record most will need a little more time to grow into, and I’m especially excited to hear them perform it live on their tour next month.
Words by Sam Atkins.