Posts Tagged ‘Zoë Randell’

As unexpected as it is to find Luluc closing out 2020 sharing a producer with pop behemoth Taylor Swift, it seems like a fitting end to this liminal, otherworldly year. The kinetic Aaron Dessner beat that opens the Australian duo’s fourth album is as much of a departure from the more muted tones of their previous work as its siblings brought to folklore – and yet, just as those propelled Swift’s heroine east from St Louis, this synthesised pulse also takes the listener on a journey.

The opening “Emerald City” began in a world halfway between the Melbourne of Luluc’s beginnings and the Brooklyn the duo have since come to call home: in Berlin in August 2018, where, on an invitation from Dessner, Zoë Randell and Steve Hassett flew out to perform at the PEOPLE festival. There, in an old East German radio-station-turned-venue-and-studio, the frequent collaborators – together with drummers JT Yates and Jason Treuting, and CJ Camerieri on trumpet – sought to translate the restless energy of the streets of New York into music.

Friends, festivals, transatlantic flights: the “Emerald City” origin story couldn’t be further from the Australian coast where Randell and Hassett finished mixing the album, seeing out the pandemic in isolation. And yet the thread that runs through “Dreamboat” is primarily an introspective one: of wild horses and weatherbirds, Wizard Of Oz metaphors and waking in the night. Luluc’s dream world, like the real one, is still complicated: at times as idyllic as the vision of “blue water and sunshine” in the Carpenters-esque “Dreaming”; at times a claustrophobic nightmare roping you in against your will.

The frantic buzz of that opening track is straight from the fast-paced, pre-pandemic world in which it was occasionally played live – but the anxieties tied up in its frenetic layers, punctuated by panicked bursts of trumpet, will be familiar to anyone who has lain awake these past few months, “tumbling and twisting” with “too much” in their head. The song is a stream of consciousness set in those anxious moments before sleep; above the noise, Randell’s voice a steady ship, with lines that seem prescient now. “Like Dorothy on the run,” she sings, “breaking my will, I stay in”.

The track is one of two to feature a Dessner co-production credit, Randell and Hassett handling the majority of the album solo. Combined with their decision to release independently rather than through long-time label Sub Pop – an amicable decision, Randell explains, driven by the duo’s desire to release this music into the world at their own pace – the implication is of full creative control. The simplicity at the core of the duo’s song writing remains intact, but the confidence that comes with experience allows them to lean into different choices as the songs dictate, be it duelling drummers, tenor saxophone or a touch of New York jazz guitar.

Wurlitzer and walking bass lend “Hey Hey” a vintage country feel, jazz drummer Dalton Hart working with Hassett to keep the song at a simmer until a melodic burst of sunshine shoots through the middle. “Weatherbirds” is built around another Dessner beat, but it’s the brightness of Hassett’s guitar and backing vocals that carry the song; and Arcade Fire touring member Stuart Bogie’s saxophone brings the pink flush of sundown to “Out Beyond”, a harmonious Randell-Hassett duet from the edge of the world.

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But sometimes, the songs call for nothing at all. “All The Pretty Scenery”, a feather-light beauty in which the narrator’s gaze turns from her own interior world to that of another, features only Randell and Hassett, some vocal doubling the closest thing to trickery. “Gentle Steed”, recorded live in Berlin with Hassett on piano and Caimin Gilmore on double bass, falls somewhere between old folk song and mythology, Randell’s vocals timeless and pure. Her voice carries something of a myth-making quality in its timbre, making the everyday details that creep into her lyrics – a reference to “booze”, an affectionate “my man” designation for a partner – twice as charming.

The real world creeps in as it must: as the sound of cars “rolling their way into my notebook” among the diary-esque lyrics of “Hey Hey”; in the shape of an arachnid in “Spider”. But behind it all, a self-possessed Luluc in isolation, daydreaming of friends apart until they can once again cross the sea.

“Dreamboat” released through Sun Chaser Records  October 23rd, 2020

2020 relents… finally some good news. And an antidote to the “Emerald City” earworm that’s been driving me to distraction since the Melbourne and Castlemaine gigs a lifetime ago now!. Luluc will release their fourth album Dreamboat next week, and ‘Emerald City’ is a brilliant first taste. Zoë Randell’s voice is right up front, while some anxious and jittery beats scurry about beneath her. It all sounds very restrained, but there’s actually quite a lot going on when you pull it apart. This track was one of a couple that sees the group again team up with Aaron Dessner on production, and, while it sees the duo retain their identity with strength, it also shows a gentle evolution thanks to some charming new elements.

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Releases October 23rd, 2020

Luluc Dear Hamlyn

Luluc released their debut album, “Dear Hamlyn”, in 2008; the songs were written following the death of Randell’s father. Dear Hamlyn eventually gained a large group of influential admirers. Peter Blackstock co-founder of No Depression Magazine, wrote of the album, “The most beautiful album I’ve heard in ten years.” In 2011, Nick Drake’s producer, Joe Boyd, also taken by Dear Hamlyn, invited Luluc to feature in his Nick Drake tribute tour. They contributed the tracks “Things Behind the Sun” and “Fly” to the live tribute album, Way to Blue: The Songs of Nick Drake in 2013.

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Luluc went on to sign with Sub Pop Records and release the critically acclaimed albums Passerby (2014) and Sculptor (2018). This edition of Dear Hamlyn is the first time it has been available on vinyl.

The Wealthiest Queen from the Luluc album Dear Hamlyn. The film clip is a Lucy Dyson animation, inspired by the work of Busby Berkeley. Song written by Zoe Randell.

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Near the end of Reagan’s first term, the Western Massachusetts Hardcore scene coughed up an insanely shaped chunk called Dinosaur. Comprised of WMHC vets, the trio was a miasmic tornado of guitar noise, bad attitude and near-subliminal pop-based-shape-shifting. Through their existence, Dinosaur (amended to Dinosaur Jr. for legal reasons) defined a very specific, very aggressive set of oblique song-based responses to what was going on. Their one constant was the scalp-fryingly loud guitar and deeply buried vocals of J Mascis.

Sure, Dinosaur Jr.’s J Mascis isn’t reinventing the wheel with this latest release, but that’s because he invented the wheel. Where was your outrage when Thomas Edison refused to redesign the light bulb? Exactly. This here is the title track off his latest solo record of the same name, released just last week.

Like its predecessors, Elastic Days was recorded at J’s own Bisquiteen studio. Mascis does almost all his own stunts, although Ken Miauri (who also appeared on Tied to a Star) plays keyboards and there are a few guest vocal spots. These include old mates Pall Jenkins (Black Heart Procession), and Mark Mulcahy (Miracle Legion, etc.), as well as the newly added voice of Zoë Randell (Luluc)  among others. But the show is mostly J’s and J’s alone.

He laughs when I tell him I’m surprised by how melodic his vocals seem to have gotten. Asked if that was intentional, he says, “No. I took some singing lessons and do vocal warm-ups now, but that was mostly just to keep from blowing out my vocal cords when Dino started touring again. The biggest difference with this record might have to do with the drums. I’d just got a new drum set I was really excited about. I don’t have too many drum outlets at the moment, so I played a lot more drums than I’d originally planned. I just kept playing. [laughs] I’d play the acoustic guitar parts then head right to the drums.”

Elastic Days brims with great moments. Epic hooks that snare you in surprisingly subtle ways, guitar textures that slide against each other like old lovers, and structures that range from a neo-power-ballad (“Web So Dense”) to jazzily-canted West Coasty post-psych (“Give It Off”) to a track that subliminally recalls the keyboard approach of Scott Thurston-era Stooges (“Drop Me”). The album plays out with a combination of holism and variety that is certain to set many brains ablaze.

J says he’ll be taking this album on the road later in the year. He’ll be playing by himself, but unlike other solo tours he says he’ll be standing up this time. “I used to just sit down and build a little fort around myself – amps, music stands, drinks stands, all that stuff. But I just realized it sounds better if the amps are higher up because I’m so used to playing with stacks. So I’ll stand this time.” I ask if it’s not pretty weird to stand alone on a big stage. “Yeah,” he says. “But it’s weird sitting down too.” Ha. Good point. One needs to be elastic. In all things.

There is plenty of drumming on the dozen songs on Elastic Days. But for those expecting the hallucinatory overload of Dinosaur Jr’s live attack, the gentleness of the approach here will draw easy comparisons to Neil Young’s binary approach to working solo versus working with Crazy Horse.

Elastic Days (Release Date: November 9th, 2018)