The Luyas Animator

[Dead Oceans; 2012]

Styles: chamber pop, dream pop
Others: Pram, Tindersticks, late Blonde Redhead, Broadcast, Owen Pallett

The Luyas’ Animator is a study in contrasts with 2011’s ebullient Too Beautiful to Work. Conceived in the wake of a shared loss, Animator is a desultory, rounded, frictionless thing compared to the sharper contours and playful fits of its predecessor. Gone are the exacting rhythmic precisions of a band rejoicing in its incipience, creating its own taxonomy of forms and “signature licks.” Here, Jessie Stein’s childlike vocals linger on the insoluble contradictions of death, and it’s difficult to say whether her meditations lead the band through the slowly congealing modulations, or if the chamber “pop” orchestrations are tugging at the sleeves and hems of loss. Perhaps we simply hold the results of a pop band walking into a studio and leaving that same night something very much else.

Even if growing pains are occasionally apparent (and if only felt as a relative absence of the band’s usual jaunty lilt), Stein sells the results with candor. On Montuno’s steady groove of shifting sentiment, Stein admits to “Trying to make a mountain/ And trying all wrong/ Anyone could tell me:/ You’re nothing like that stuff you’re trying to be.” The departure of founding drummer Stef Schneider has moved the band into less dynamic, energetic grooves, but none the worse for the wear; the compound meter of “Traces” is pulled off with an ease (and lack of ostentation) reminiscent of… Radiohead, really. The deliciously playful bass grooves lead the day, holding the low end through Pietro Amato’s harmonic abstractions. Give me a listener, and I’ll give you a unique handful of associations The Luyas will evoke. The Cranes? Late Mercury Rev? Final Fantasy? Pram? Blonde Redhead? The sorely missed Broadcast? Very few records produce such a surfeit of comparisons while sounding so resolutely themselves. The few songs built upon the fundament of open guitar chords (e.g., “Talking Mountains”) are of a piece, foreign in their simplicity.

Yes, there’s something quietly revolutionary and thriving throughout Animator’s variegated loom. Lead single “Fifty Fifty” is exemplary of the confident, elusive arrangements that shift keys, moods, and directions underfoot, like a magic trick being performed slowly enough to reveal the legerdemain, yet revealing nothing, seamless. Sarah Neufeld (of Arcade Fire fame) provides stately string arrangements à la Owen Pallett (or, looking a bit further back, Luke Sutherland) on several of the outright dream pop numbers. This sumptuous sonic depth exceeds that of a live band, but still feels like something The Luyas will pull off live without a hitch. Evocative and avoiding narrative, brooding but warm to the touch, you’ll feel compelled to return to these songs without actually learning the mechanics of their nature. Cinematic and stately like the Tindersticks’ work with Claire Denis, The Luyas might be better suited to Maya Deren or Stan Brakhage.

I’m willing to err on the upside of Animator’s replay value and lasting emotional import. This is a must-listen for the lack of force and effort evident in its deep inscrutability. In the same way that generational touchstones like Kid A felt monolithic in execution and conception on your first listen — of a whole and seemingly predating the toil and trouble of actually creating the damned thing — The Luyas have crafted something lapidary, languorous, haunted. These songs end up eluding their own hooks, trying “to hold onto ideas until all the rules are all replaced,” but opting to refuse conclusion or closure altogether. Mystery is synonymous with expansion when it works, and The Luyas have here taken an unexpected, broad leap from pop wunderkinds to apprentice mythologizers.

Links: The Luyas - Dead Oceans

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