As a musical genre, the dreamy and ghostly music dubbed by the press as shoegaze never really got off to much of a start in the 1990s. Probably most notable for that fateful day in Reading when Chapterhouse appeared higher on a bill than Nirvana, it was swiftly crushed between the arrival of Grunge and the birth of Britpop. Slow and thoughtful had no chance when faced with directionless anger or safe, hedonistic blandness. So it’s quite nice, if only for the sake of a polite “letting it have a proper go now that the bigger kids have left the playground” sense of fair play, that it’s having a bit of a renaissance now, albeit under the many flags of post-rock, neo-classical, baroque/chamber pop (and various combinations thereof). That nobody can decide what to call it is always a good sign, as this generally means that bands and artists are connected with each other more by an idea rather than a list of rules.
I came across this album more or less by chance whilst doing a spot of online shopping. The cover was quaintly intriguing, the label (Bella Union) is always an indication of eclectic quality, general recommendations were high, and Rough Trade are selling it with a free bonus CD. Curiosity and the prospect of free stuff is always a winning combination, and I’m glad that I handed over the cash for it.
There’s certainly an Icelandic quality to the album from the very start as faint, scratchy electronic percussion and a melody that barely accelerates beyond a resting heartbeat leads in to Lungs Quicken, all rather apt considering that the song builds gently to a full chorus, urging the singer’s body to respond – sadly, names are going to be a bit absent here, as the CD packaging comes with no indication of who is participating, just the names of Hazel and Adam as lyricists.
What I do know of of LotL is that they hail from the North East of England, and this makes itself apparent during the folkier side to their performances, the phrasing and harmonies are unmistakable no matter how much the pace is slowed nor now much atmospheric orchestral and electronic droning is placed carefully over the top of each chorus. This also serves well as an ethereal anchor; for even when the music is at its most grandiose and expansive, there’s always a lyrical line or homely string accompaniment to put Gracious Tide, Take Me Home in a warm, comforting environment.
There’s a fair amount of variety and personality here, with A Kingdom standing out as a more urgently percussive nod to the Cocteau Twins, Blanket of Leaves is a startling gentle indie-pop song, and the rootsier, male-led If I’ve Been Unkind and stripped-down closer Not Going Back to the Harbour evoke a sense of community in the same spirit as Elbow’s Build a Rocket Boys from earlier this year. The heart of the record however belongs to the large, ambient soundscapes that (largely thanks to the cyclical glockenspiel passages) bring Sigur Rós to mind so readily. Centrepiece Places We Call Home is the finest example here, the childlike beginnings giving way to huge swells, mixing each sound perfectly with one another, with organic sounds given strange electronic tweaks as it eases itself out towards the end over a well drawn-out and somewhat beautiful couple of minutes.
It’s a magical record for sure, every track feels to me like a childhood holiday, evoking images and feelings of something new and different with each subsequent song, held together by a whole that both excites and relaxes in equal measure. This is certainly a band I’ll be following closely, if only to find out who’s actually in it.
And as mentioned at the top, if purchased from Rough Trade’s store, it comes with a 4-track bonus CD that comes in a hand-stamped envelope so sweet, it’s almost a shame to open it. The contents are equally splendid, containing two extra tracks and two remixes, one from the increasingly ubiquitous (and very welcome for it) Dustin O’Halloran. An excellent addition, and well worth considering.