So many of my favourite artists are natural collaborators. The likes of David Bowie, Iggy Pop, David Sylvian and arguably even Miles Davis all worked constantly with different musicians, broadening their artistic palette and allowing them to head in different directions. It has given them the benefit of being able to pivot on musical styles and avoiding dull cul-de-sacs.
Laura Marling’s career so far has shown that she is open to working with different people. Talking amongst friends, we’ve been willing her to stretch out and play with some more challenging musicians, much as Joni Mitchell did around the Hejira/Don Juan/Mingus period, where she surrounded herself with the cream of the American modern jazz scene.
Laura’s latest venture isn’t quite the stylistic leap that Joni made in the mid-70s but it is a step outside of her most recent work, which has moved her away from a solo acoustic setting toward working with a band.
Her latest venture is Lump, working with Mike Lindsay of Tunng, who were significant players in the psych-folk scene that threatened to break out of a niche a few years ago but never quite made it.
Marling and Lindsay met when at a bowling alley next to the O2 Arena when she was playing support to Neil Young on his 2016 tour. Within a couple of days, they were working together and the fruits of their labours was an album that runs to just over half an hour and is refreshingly sharp and sweet.
The album has a constant gentle electronic pulse to it that runs like a version of an Indian tanpura but the melodies are not unfamiliar to those who have been following Marling’s career to date. It still features guitars but they aren’t recognisably from either party’s previous musical career. The guitar sound is gently distorted and employed often as flourishes and embellishments rather than forming the rhythmic bedrock that is recognisable from the folk tradition.
I’ve already mentioned the melodies and a couple of the tracks are incredibly hook-laden. “Curse Of The Contemporary” has been the single that has been getting the most traction and was recently performed on BBC2’s “Later” programme. It has got a beautiful sunny West Coast feel to it, perfect for driving around Lauren Canyon whilst the sun goes down. Laura is singing in a higher register than normal and it works perfectly.
Starting with “Late to the Flight” and the track builds with a choir of Laura’s harmonising with each other, very much as Marvin used to in the 70s. The afore-mentioned pulse takes you into “May I Be The Light” which eventually opens up like a flower into a glorious chorus. The closest we get to a folk melody is side two’s “Hand Held Hero”, but there is a barely a tradtional instrument on the track, just a bubbly ominous analogue synth and percussion.
The album is brief and only has effectively six tracks, the seventh being a rundown of the team that has worked on the project. There is very much a flow to the record and its brevity works in its favour. The analogy is when you see those bands with a couple of records under their belts live and they are on and off stage with a blast of energy within an hour. If this product had been concocted in 1993, there’s a chance that someone in an office at a record company would have insisted that they filled a 73 minute CD. One of the beauty’s of the vinyl revival is that it does drive artists toward conciseness.
The record represents an interesting diversion for both artists. Marling continues to release subtle beautiful music such as 2017’s “Semper Femina” and this whilst different sonically doesn’t stray from that path.
You just sense that there is a little more to come if she was stretched by the musicians around her.