Here’s a curveball. In amongst the deluge of new release announcements earlier this year lurked a very curious revelation: there was to be a new Laura Marling record, hidden under the least auspicious of monikers, LUMP.
At least, that is how the news was reported, such is the revered, borderline worshipped status that Marling commands in the music press. In fact, LUMP is a collaborative project whose blueprint bears at least as much of the DNA of Mike Lindsay, the long-time composer and guitarist with experimental folk group Tunng. Tonight, LUMP’s brief debut UK tour stops off at Oslo in Hackney, and it turns out to be a rare joy.
Lindsay and Marling met on a night when Marling was opening for one of the duo’s forefathers, Neil Young. The two, it transpired, had also been long-time mutual admirers and, on the evidence of their addictive self-titled debut album, their merger did not take much forging.
They play the album from start to finish tonight, albeit that amounts to a total of six tracks and less than 35 minutes. But each moment is a treasure, a feverish collision of her ripened, acute writing and his flair for sprinkling experimental flourishes over well-learned musical traditions. The necessary brevity of their set explains why this is actually the second of two shows they play at Oslo tonight, a formula they have been employing throughout the tour. They are, after all, playing their entire repertoire.
There is a pleasing cohesion to the album, and in turn tonight’s set. All six songs are in the same key and they all feature unfiltered lyrics that Marling claims are indebted to surrealists such as Edward Lear and Ivor Cutler. This is most recognisable on Hand Hold Hero, perhaps the most formally expansive and radical track of the night. Lindsay pores over his synths and programmers, whilst Marling is doubled over as she wrings searing howls out of her guitar.
It is delicious to see Marling existing in such an unfamiliar context, an entirely new ecosystem compared to her solo material, one that could never be hers alone. As a lead singer and guitarist in a full band, she is unleashed, free to explore the boundaries of her on-stage role, able to share the burden of the audience’s gaze, seemingly relieved of image control duties.
Musically the manuscript is in Lindsay’s handwriting. His electronic tinkerings underlie every track, a fluctuating drone armouring the compositions, whilst a commitment to repetition and symmetrical arrangements lends the songs a recognisable structure. Curse Of The Contemporary is the most immediate, being driven by Marling’s isolated vocal, even if the rest of the band offer harmony support at the song’s climax.
Marling plays bass on the opening two tracks Late To The Flight and May I Be the Light, Lindsay taking up guitar responsibilities, including some juicy freakoutery at the latter’s climax. On record, Marling’s vocals are gloriously layered and overdubbed, but her voice soars so high and true in the live environment that the multi-tracks are not missed. The most dramatic musical breakdown is saved for the culmination though, the expansive freedom of Shake Your Shelter finding Lindsay in particular in his element, his tendency to indulge set free.
There is a much-demanded encore, perhaps more in hope than expectation, but alas six songs is to be our lot. There has been some discussion that any future LUMP material might not necessarily have to come from the same creators, as if the project is greater than its (current) members. What is for sure is that this inaugural incarnation has landed on its feet extremely quickly. For Marling and Lindsay both, this is a comfort zone-busting experience, and they couldn’t look happier about it.