Saturday, September 26, 2009

Album Review: Le Loup

Upon first listen it appears that Le Loup wears their influences very brightly upon their sleeves. There are the joyous Brian Wilson-come-Animal Collective harmonies, the Grizzly Bear-esque atmospheric textures underpinned by wandering banjos and the merry Fleet Fox(ish) winter hymnals. Not a bad group of musicians to be lumped in with by any measure. But as wonderful as each of those respective bands can be, here's the thing that no one ever says about them - sometimes they're a bit boring. As much as I love Animal Collective, sometimes I just don't have the patience for 7-minutes of droning bees. Grizzly Bear can absolutely bring an angelic chorus like nobody else this side of Radiohead, but they're few and far between. And the Fleet Foxes, as beautiful as they often sound, only seem appropriate on snowy days.

Le Loup, on the other hand, are not only 'not boring,' they are down right compelling. Each subsequent listen of Family seems to simultaneously shrug off the initial comparisons to the above bands, while shedding light on a different set of influences, both strange and beautiful.

The opening track, "Saddle Mountain," sounds like a band of Celtic seafarers setting off on an epic journey through cold and treacherous waters. That's followed by "Beach Town," which imagines what Paul Simon's Graceland and OK Computer might sound like if they had a baby. "Grow," is a Ronettes song from outer space, "Sherpa," a joyous sing along, and "Neahkahnie," the best song the Shin's never wrote

At times the instrumentation on Family is sparse, the atmosphere, airy. Many of the songs take their time, stetching out and building upon themselves, adding layer upon layer. Patients will be required but the payoff is worth it. The title track, for instance, goes on for a few minutes utilizing nothing but some rattling sounds in the background and echoing, Nordic-sounding harmonies, all before busting into a good-times jam with acoustic guitars, synthy layers and Caribbean beats.

When the instrumentation gets thin, Le Loup relies on the skilled and primal drumming of Robert Sahm to carry them to wherever it is they're going next. Sahm's beats figure heavy into the mix and often serve as the backbone to Sam Simkoff's pretty and far away vocals - Simkoff, utilizing the same reverb-heavy, distant singing style as My Morning Jacket's, Jim James. The blend of traditional instruments (banjos, bass, guitars) with modern components like keyboards and computers, makes for an often hypnotizing wall of sound that would leave Phil Spector smiling, even behind bars.

A lot of bands are great at mimicking whatever sound is presently popular. Le Loup, on the other hand, are reaching for something much higher than just being part of a scene, and they definitely have accomplished their goal with Family. A lot of care and thought clearly went into the making of this album and I'd suggest taking your family to the nearest record store and picking this one up, now.

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