You don’t necessarily have to be a fan of the US retro sci-fi show Stranger Things to entertain a vague idea about parallel universes; in the last 18 months for many of us it’s been like living in a plaguemare a step removed from our real selves – in which mostly bad things happened. One half of LUMP, the normally reserved folk singer Laura Marling has likened the specter of what lies beneath their frequently unconventional music to The Upside Down, the alternate, evil, dimension which mirrors the small town of Hawkins in which the series is based.
Her partner in what is a multi-dimensional project is Mike Lindsay, Mercury Award winning producer (Marling has multiple nominations but still no gong) and driving force behind the weebly folk outfit Tunng, whose debut album Mother’s Daughter spliced Aphex Twin with Wicker Man-esque jaunts from around the maypole. The duo’s eponymous first album was they freely admitted a slight escape from the singer’s occasionally constricting chains of public expectation, whilst Lindsay used it as a place for ideas which simply had no other home. Reuniting after schedules kept them apart for over a year, they’ve thankfully decided to stay weird.
Maybe some of this is due to process; Marling usually parachutes in, hears what her foil has to offer and then free associates lyrics on the spot. This time however she’s used words and phrases as a lexicon given a new context by her study of psychoanalysis; whether it’s a direct by-product, on opener Bloom At Night she chirps “It took one god seven days to go insane”, whilst later in the Moog-led We Cannot Resist her almost free association lets go “Among the world of things untamed/Are the objects as yet unexplained/My object of choice/Is the oil that forms on a well-strung voice.”
For all the talk of margins and lack of barriers, that at least is a tune which carries with it the wonky pop smarts of Metronomy at their 3 a.m. best. Like them and other acts nudging towards the Avant garde such as Virginia Wing, there’s a wary subtext to the material; the title track’s genteel sub-operatics accompany words supposedly about letting our inner primate loose, whilst the percussion heavy Gamma Ray obliquely deals with the suicide of a distant relative from a dusty, time stretched window.
These are boldly off kilter strokes but they happily guide towards the conclusion that this is no Upside Down at all, a notion gilded by the tinkling waterfall instrumental Hair On The Pillow and Oberon, both tales in tales, old and new pricks of consciousness meeting languidly to show that this isn’t peculiar for peculiarity’s sake.
Animal definitely then wouldn’t score very highly on the weird-shit-o-meter. It needs room in your mind to expand into and first impressions – so important in the attention-zero twenties – are that Marling and Lindsay are caught up dreaming of a mirror image that isn’t quite what everyone else hears. Whether they meant it or not though, with some little love musically here’s a corner of England which may soon be lost again, but where all the usual ghosts are real.