LAU: Decade (The Best Of 2007-2017)
Lau Scotland – 16 June 2017
Aidan O’Rourke, Kris Drever and Martin Green have been playing together as LAU for rather longer than 10 years, the period Decade marks the time since their first full album release, Lightweights and Gentlemen, in 2007. They aim to mark the milestone with an autumn tour for which they promise a reworking of some of their classic pieces. Meanwhile, they asked their audience to suggest favourite tracks from the 4 studio albums they’ve released since 2007 and Decade is the collection LAU chose from those suggestions.
The tracks of Decade run in chronological order and therein lies the value of this compilation. The aim has been, very deliberately, to illustrate the evolution of their music, from Lightweights and Gentlemen in which traditional styles and structures are clearly evident, through to the experimental forms and electronic effects of Race The Loser and The Bell That Never Rang.
The compilation opens with three tracks from Lightweights and Gentlemen, Unquiet Grave, Hinba and Gallowhill. The traditional song, Unquiet Grave, probably shows the trio at their most, well, traditional. Kris sings the lyrics in his inimitable style and generates a steady rhythm on his guitar. Martin’s accordion, shortly followed by Aidan’s violin, builds up an accompaniment that, while ethereal enough to emphasise the supernatural nature of the song, conventionally separates the two instruments. Only in some of the bass chord sequences from the accordion is there a hint of the distinctly unconventional direction that LAU were heading.
Hinba, on the other hand, is a far more definite pointer. A series of riffs that develop repetitively until, about a minute from the end, only Kris’ guitar keeps a rhythm and first the accordion and then the violin break ranks, discarding the tune for a series of excursions that defy both rhythm and key producing a cacophony that ends, after a short pause, with the tune recovered and taken on to the end of the track. An immediate hit with audiences who rarely needed Martin’s encouragement to “go wild if we manage to get back together before the end”.
Gallowhill, for the most part, is a gentle, lyrical fiddle tune and, whilst it doesn’t have the startling breakout section of Hinba, it shows LAU experimenting with changes of pace and instrumentation, adding significant variations of texture to the track. The fourth track, The Lang Set, has its roots in two tune sets that originally appeared on Lightweights and Gentlemen but, by the time LAU released their Live album in 2008, the two sets had coalesced to give, at over 14 minutes, a piece that amply justified its title. The version that is included on Decade came even later in LAU’s development and first appeared on the 2012 remastered re-release of Lightweights and Gentlemen and Live as a 2CD set.
The first track taken from 2009’s album Arc Light, Wintermoon, is a Kris Drever composition, marking a progression from the songs on Lightweights, two of which were traditionally based and the third a Ewan MacColl composition. Horizontigo and The Burrian are the two instrumental tracks chosen from Arc Light and both are extended pieces with moods changing as they develop. It’s noticeable that the primary instruments of guitar, fiddle and accordion are still clearly identifiable components of the arrangements but behind them are sounds, largely emanating from Martin’s keyboard, that reveal the direction in which the LAU sound is developing.
By the time of LAU’s next release, 2012’s Race The Loser, electronics were playing a larger role in the total sound as Far From Portland well illustrates. Starting with repetitive bursts of a sound I can only liken to a short, sharp burn on the gas jet of a hot air balloon, riffs from all three instruments are developed over this for much of the track. The choice of Throwing Pennies, a vocal from Kris, reinforces the trend, the track starts with Kris picking a repeated sequence on guitar that is soon joined by an electronic tapping rhythm that underlies much of the song. Most of the accompaniment, though, can be tied down to guitar, violin or accordion. The same is true of the last choice from Race. Torsa has long been one of my favourite LAU pieces, written about an island that was part of his childhood, it features Aidan’s violin.
The final two selections are from The Bell That Never Rang released in 2015. Both vocal tracks, First Homecoming pairs Kris’s voice with an arrangement that is strongly electronic, when acoustic instruments are identifiable they are quite likely to be “enhanced”. In contrast, Ghosts, makes far less use of these extras. Or perhaps they’re just far less obvious? Either way, it is a beautiful song making a powerful plea for tolerance.
Decade, as a snapshot of what LAU has achieved over the last 10 years, is a great listen, charting the development of the LAU sound. If you have copies of any of the individual albums it will certainly drive you to give them a fresh listen. And if you are a newcomer to the trio, be prepared to reach for your wallet, you’re quite likely to head off on a CD buying spree.
ORDER DECADE HERE (VINYL / CD): http://laumusic.bigcartel.com/