Lau have given fans two major events to look forward to in October. In addition to the much anticipated Welcome To Lau-Land, as mentioned by Folk Radio UK in June time also draws nigh for the release, at last, of their third studio album – Race The Loser.
Lightweights And Gentlemen in 2007 and Arc Light in 2009 were widely acclaimed, and very well received, to the extent that the trio won the Best Group title in BBC’s Folk Awards three years running (2008 – 2010). Early blog entries and taster tracks promise an album that builds on the varied work they’ve been involved in over the last couple of years. In addition to their own external ventures, Lau as a unit have embarked on a range of projects. There have been EP’s with electronic producer Adem and Scots singer Karine Polwart and a live show and documentary for the BBC with rock legend, Cream bassist Jack Bruce. In 2011 they took to the stage with the Northern Sinfonia to perform Strange Attractors, written in collaboration with Irish composer Brian Irvine.
Race The Loser opens with an Ace. Saint Monday is a melancholy song that employs a combination of strings, accordion and electronics to build and sustain a dream-like atmosphere. This is the first of three tracks from the album that provide the music for the forthcoming video project, Nevada, which also features the instrumentals Far From Portland and Torsa. Far From Portland is a lengthy instrumental, at almost eight minutes. Industrial rhythms provide a backing for a gentle acoustic guitar / electric piano combination sandwiched between two helpings of fiesty fiddle that lead to a second theme based on semi-acoustic guitar and accordion. Torsa is an instrumental of two distinct halves. A sombre but soothing air with some beautiful musical meanderings from each of the trio, gives way to a joyous reel that must surely have been inspired by the beautiful island of the same name.
As is to be expected, the album is predominantly instrumental, but there’s a varied approach to the compositions that prevents any sense of repetition creeping in. This diversity runs from Missing Pieces, a short selection of electronics that lies somewhere between Lorne MacDougall‘s digital experiments and Three Cane Whale, to a second instrumental inspired by location, Noltland Castle (an incongruously large and impressive 15th century stronghold on the Orkney Island of Westray), which opens lightly and builds throughout towards a march.
Beer Engineer closes the album with a little of everything; chamber strings, pub piano and a gentle sway reminiscent of that brought about by the wonderful hop & barley mix the short closing chorus appears to celebrate. Save The Bees also enjoys a mixed pace; with a very bee-like, industrious rhythm.
It’s easy to lose yourself in the instrumental maelstroms and forget there are songs on the album too – and fine songs they are. The Bird That Winds The Spring is a lively song with an exuberant beat and fascinating but, so far, impenetrable lyrics. Throwing Pennies contains a clearer message among a shuffling loom-like uniformity…
Stark and bare / low winter light / I make do for shelter / see my breath most nights
For Race The Loser Lau have secured the services of producer Tucker Martine (Sufjan Stevens, R.E.M. and Beth Orton’s forthcoming album), whose mastery at combining instinctive recording skills with a clear understanding of how to bring out the unique qualities of the music entrusted to him have played no small part in giving this album its rightful place as a natural progression of Lau’s singular approach. Lau continue to imbue the British folk scene with colourful, thought-provoking and highly original sounds. Race The Loser presents Lau as a band very much in control of their own destiny; super-charged with confident, free-thinking music that will continue to enthral existing fans and kindle interest from an ever-widening audience. It would be great to give this album a few more plays before committing thoughts to words, there’s something new to discover every time it’s played. But it’s time to spread the word – Lau are back.
Review by: Neil McFadyen
Lau are touring extensively from August, full details here.
Race the Loser is released on October 1st. Pre-order from Lau’s website here.