Folk three-piece Lau bill themselves as “the finest and mostinnovative exponents of modern traditional music in Scotland today”.If you, too, are slightly amused by the oxymoronic acrobatics going onin that sentence, then fear not: Arc Light, Lau’s second studio album,is essentially just made up of rather nice folk music of the ‘Celtic’variety. Throw on Radio 3 at any time, perhaps in the vague hope youmight hear classical music, and you are sure to hear somethingsimilar.
To be fair to Lau, and in fear of a mauling from their surprisinglydedicated fans, it’s a musical genre that they plough with some skill.The only problem is that, for the most part, it feels so desperatelyout of touch. Opener The Burrian is close to seven minutes,instrumental, and without surprise. Violin, check. Accordion, check.This is a song that feels almost born to have been earmarked’trad’.
What, indeed, is needed, is a touch of personality. Frontman KrisDrever steps up to the plate in Winter Moon to deliver vocals. Here werun into the second of Lau’s problems: the tendency towards clich�.It’s all about bishops, “rise and shine”, and being “lonesome as awinter moon”. Things are made all the worse by the addition of aperformance of Les Rice’s Banks Of Marble: travelling the country fromshore to shining shore? Yup. Sisters and brothers working the land forbosses? Oh dear, yes.
While this approach might be true to British folk traditions, itfeels about a thousand miles away from anything contemporary. It is,at times, simply embarrassing, as on The Master, where palms getcrossed with silver, there is a wayward daughter, and more than afaint reek of misogyny.
You might say, based on this, that the genre is something of ahamstring for Lau when it comes to appealing to modern audiences.However, you only have to compare to American artists like AlelaDiane and Marissa Nadler, both of whom seem on the verge ofdonning bonnets and going to live in the Appalachians, to know thatstatement is disingenuous. It’s not subject matter that’s the problem,it’s the lack of promised innovation when it comes to the lyrics. Theconstant stream of clich�s is embarrassing – nothing feels true orgenuinely human.
This all said, there are some lovely instrumental tracks -Horizontigo and Temple of Fiddles, in particular, are sublimelybeautiful pieces that, even while simply in the background, tend tograb the ear and induce a melancholy mood. They aren’t enough toredeem the album, though.
So, while we give thanks for the moderntechnology that allows us to excise those tracks and add them to aseparate playlist, that’s not exactly a good reason for you to rushout and buy Arc Light. Lau have some of the most loyal fans in thebusiness, though, so won’t be going hungry. Even if, ahem, the bosseswon’t give them work no more.