Album Reviews

Le Loup – The Throne of the Third Heaven of the Nations’ Millennium General Assembly

(Memphis Industries) UK release date: 3 December 2007

…but first, a word on the title. While it may appear to be just another long and unwieldy indie album name, The Throne of the Third Heaven of The Nations Millennium General Assembly actually exists, and its story is almost as strange as the album that Washington-DC based Le Loup have made in its name.

Painstakingly pieced together over a period of around 14 years, The Throne.. (the artwork) is a gargantuan piece of outsider art made by janitor James Hampton, or, as he liked to call himself, St. James, Director for Special Projects for the State of Eternity. Its a 180 piece collection, featuring a winged throne flanked by mercy seats, pulpits and plaques made out of whatever flotsam and jetsam that washed up into Hampton’s garage. Never finished, it stands as testament to the tenacity of what one man can do when his purpose is never, at least to him, in doubt.

And it’s hard not to draw a big fat line with little arrows on both ends between The Throne… and The Throne…, the album, because while Le Loup are now an eight-piece touring band, pretty much everything on The Throne… is the work of a single person, band mainman Sam Simkoff. And, like the artwork that inspired it (actually, I’m not clear on whether it did or not, due to the album being steeped in obliqueness, but more on that later), The Throne is a singular construct, lovingly pieced together from the flotsam and jetsam of sound that Simkoff managed to capture on his laptop. It is also, like the artwork, more than a little bonkers.

The first thing that strikes the listener upon firing up first track Canto I is that, unlike other one-man-and-a-laptop outings such as Shocking Pinks, Le Loup on disc really sound like a fleshed-out band. Simkoff frequently multitracks his vocals and utilises field recordings and subtle natural ambiences to fill out his sound. Canto I, with its melodic banjo picking, reminds one of a pastoral picnic; Planes Like Vultures’ in-the-round vocals suggest a multitude of Simkoffs united in some freak choir that would give fundamentalist Christian opponents of cloning some unquiet nights; and if Look To The West wasn’t recorded by a full band, well, it damn well sounds like it was.

The album’s lyrical themes are a little hard to pin down, but Simkoff leaves clues; biblical ire and devotion are implied by the title, of course, and tracks Canto I and Canto XXXIV are named after the first and last parts of Dante’s Inferno. While on one hand The Throne… exists in close proximity to the sonic lands colonised by the joyous hymns of The Polyphonic Spree or the ‘everything goes’ indie eclecticism of Broken Social Scene, Simkoff’s musings on We Are Gods!We Are Wolves!, the most indietronica of the tracks here suggests that much is dark in the state of Loup: “Could you ever lead your son aloft? up mountaintops? (you could never swing that dagger)”.

Structurally, too, the album’s fondness for fugue-ish composition means that it resembles the hellish concentric circles of Dante’s work, with melodies and instrumentation freely traded between tracks. It’s here that the album’s only weakness raises its head: leitmotifs are all very well and good, but they can make the listener feel a little short-changed when they crop up too often on a (reasonably) short album. And so, in the final analysis, The Throne… can feel a little like an EP: a unique, startling, end-of-the-millenium-psychosis-blues influenced EP, sure, but an EP none-the-less.

Early days for Le Loup, though, and now that Simkoff’s recruited his barmy army, be careful the next time you open the door: if you’re lucky it’ll just be The Mormons and not Le Loup, who seem destined to go about preaching their smiley apocalypse at a venue near you soon.

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Le Loup – The Throne of the Third Heaven of the Nations’ Millennium General Assembly