Lau – Midnight and Closedown

Album Review | Reveal Records | Review by Marc Higgins | Stars: 5/5

Lau is Kris Drever, Martin Green and Aidan O’Rourke. Master musicians and movers and shakers individually and a majestic band together, for twelve years the trio has consistently produced music that innovates and surprises. By their own admission, this their first album of new material since 2015’s The Bell That Never Rang, is closer to late period Beatles, unexpected, experimental, beautiful and sometimes strange, than the traditional tunes and ballads of Lau’s 2007 debut. There is no “Revolution 9” and “Riad” the final track sees them playing as a instrumental acoustic trio, back where they started, but there is the sense of a wonderfully freewheeling outward looking band who have grown far beyond their initial remit and beginnings. This surprising and exciting album is produced by John Parish, famed for his work with PJ Harvey, Sparkle horse, Aldous Harding, Rokia Traore and many others. However I don’t this album is Lau with a grainy Alt Rock makeover, rather that they all were travelling together in the same direction. “I Don’t Want To Die Here” is a bubbling rolling delight of a song. The lyric is a free form recollection, as lyrical and personal as a 21st Century Folktronica Incredible String Band, juxtaposing thoughts on migrating Salmon, a sense of belonging and family. Listen on headphones and the fine vocals ride on a swirling upriver dash of accordion, fiddle, slippery rhythms and layered electronics, creating a stunning White Album blend of edgy and beautiful. “She Put Her Headphones” takes a wonderfully gritty keyboard pulse, rolling violin and another stunningly delicate vocal. The effect is a sound scape like a Croft dwelling Ben Howard, ageless and contemporary. Lau themselves offer the track as a, comment and sonic escape to current political ails. Lyrically dense “Toy Tigers” powers along on a cut up rhythm of acoustic guitars, finger snap loops and surprising electronics. Metaphors of panic, innocence and love layer messages. Disquieting and sublime at the same time. “Echolalia” is a sure-footed instrumental dance, with wordless vocals, beautiful finger picked guitar, earworm violin and washes of phased electronics, again a piece of sheer wonder. “Itshardtoseemtobeokwhenyournot” is a sentiment for our times, a song about fragile realities behind the day to day. Thoughtful mantra lyrics carried on insistent music. “Dark Secrets” is another lyrically dense and intense song, looking back with the opposite of nostalgia, laying open bitter truths, the fake Bohemia found deep in a glass and self deception. It is an emotional and rich journey, more personal than a folk song, but full of lessons and truths over a crackling shimmering soundscape. Midnight and Closedown closes with a pair of staggeringly beautiful instrumentals. “Return To Portland” is an atmospheric brooding track with electronic beats and post rock slabs of fractured folk sounds. “Riad”, written in Marrakech, in a haven against the North African heat and bustle is an instrumental warning against the idea that we can remove ourselves from day to day realities and problems. Music can be a haven, a solace, but also an opportunity, like “Dark Secrets” to reflect, consider and confront. “Riad”, informed by the adventures and experiments of twelve years, has depth and drama, but pared back to acoustic instruments it shows the band at its core, ready to begin again, searching ever onwards. The late period Beatles comparison holds up in the spirit of its experimentation and expansiveness, with a cohesiveness and sense of place that all great albums have. Hopefully it’s not going to imminently end on a chilly central London rooftop followed by recriminations and solo albums.