Race The Loser
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Modern folk music's most innovative band Lau return with their third album 'Race The Loser'. The trio's captivating live and studio performances have seen Lau pick up three consecutive BBC Folk Awards for Best Group (2008-2010).Produced by Tucker Martine (Sufjan Stevens, The Decemberists, Laura Viers, R.E.M.) Brilliant musicians, thrilling performers, free-thinking visionaries and all-round good chaps as well small wonder Lau are regarded as the epicentre of the new folk boom . And they've got shelves groaning with awards, a forest's worth of ecstatic reviews and breathless plaudits from excited audiences in various outposts of the world ringing in their ears to prove it...
In this album's opening moments, you're thrown. Here are ambient electronics, and a pulse like a heartbeat. Here's Martin Green's accordion sounding far from traditional, next to a processed drum sound gurgling and fading.
Then comes the heavenly sound of Aidan O'Rourke's clear, direct violin, and Kris Drever's Orkney burr – the latter coming two minutes into Race the Loser's first track, Saint Monday. Lyrics about “ageless eyes” and forlorn warehouses wisp into the air, announcing this trio's new direction boldly, and with mystery.
Despite winning Best Group at the Radio 2 Folk Awards three times, Lau have dipped their toes often into less-traditional waters for their third album. Last year alone, they played a Celtic Connections concert with Cream's Jack Bruce and made an EP with folktronica godfather Adem; in the pipeline soon is an orchestral work with Irish composer Brian Irvine.
But on Race the Loser, Lau approached US producer Tucker Martine to freshen their sound, a man who has worked with Sufjan Stevens, R.E.M., The Decemberists and his wife Laura Veirs.
Fans of The Decemberists, in particular, will find much to enjoy here: nine compelling, densely textured tracks made in a seven-day session. Every experiment works gorgeously, almost alchemically. Far From Portland, named after Martine's hometown, marries crunching tape sounds, Bert Jansch-like guitars, and an outro that recalls Mogwai's gentler moments – and it works.
The Bird That Winds The Spring takes handclap percussion into a gorgeously melancholy place, where Drever's protagonist “lays his wages” at “street altars”. Throwing Pennies could stop breath with its lyrics about hearts being weighed down by anchors. Missing Pieces is as outre as it gets, but still lovely: a 38-second, Eno-worthy interlude.
Lau's traditional fans, however, won't be disappointed. Torsa and Noltland Castle are rich with the band's roots, in all senses. So is the closing Beer Engineer, until it veers off dramatically with an organ and violin psychedelically whirling.
Race the Loser ends as it begins, which makes it even more impressive: an album for alternative music lovers as much as folk fans, brimming over with intoxicating, mesmerising music.
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Top Customer Reviews
My wife and I first came to Lau through Kris Drever - we had been exploring some Roddy Woomble albums, and had been captivated by Drever's voice on `Before the Ruin'. We got his two excellent solo albums, and then realised he is also part of a group, so we started to get these albums as well. And what an amazing set of albums these guys have produced!
The sound of Lau is made up of Drever's guitar and vocals, Green's accordion and O'Rourke's fiddle. They are rooted in the folk traditions of the British isles, but are pretty experimental and boundary pushing. They mix elements of folk, rock, jazz, and anything else they please into a superb whole. Green is particularly inventive with the accordion, at one point even making it wheeze like an asthmatic. The three mesh together to produce an amazing sound. It's not as ferocious as their earlier work, with a restrained, thoughtful air. But the air of experimentation and boundary pushing is breathtaking. There's nothing to overt, no `look at me aren't I clever' attitude, but there is a sense of pushing their instruments and recording techniques in an effort to find just the right sound to express what they want to say. The result is a heartfelt album which really packs a punch. 5 stars.
Four stars because for me it does not match their awesome debut 'Lightweights & Gentlemen' which received all sorts of praised when released in 2007. 'Race The Loser' is perhaps more experimental in its instrumentation, often to great effect - it feels like the band is continuing to trim things back instead of laying it on thick just because it's worked for them before. The results continue to set them apart from the vast majority of folk acts out there, although I can't see these guys making their way into the charts any time soon.
Drever, Green and O'Rourke somehow manage to make their material seem classic without clichés, and to be maverick without thinning the soul of the music. Another very impressive album.
Live they are a true wonder, and can rock as good as most rock bands, but describing them without actually seeing them do their stuff is like trying to describe what an oyster tastes like- you can't can you.
This album does turn slightly left since the last one with the addition of elctronic pulses, woven into their hallmark of seemingly haphazard time signatures.But its still Lau rooted firmly in the folk idiom..............the first track may, however , leave you thinking otherwise, its a gorgeous low key uncluttered song on the theme of ageing, but could almost be described as chamber music; track 2 will leave most Lau fans aghast (at least initially) , what, what! some sort of electronic drone going on, but eventually blended with Aidens fiddle,eventually to be added to by Kris's very simple guitar picking........giving off flavours of King Creosote? And so the album goes on , by the time you get to 'Torsa' , it , along with the first two tracks provide the music for a video project which the band are still working on.
The album is primarily instrumental (as ever) , but it just feels so much more laid back than previous efforts( particularly 'The Bird That Winds The Spring'), just that little bit more casual, maybe deceptively so; not quite so 'proggy' as the last album (actually nowhere near as proggy!), and because of this the music doesn't quite smack you between the lugs as previously.Read more ›
There is absolutely nothing wrong with M & S, like the shop the initials also represent, they are solid, dependable, not too adventurous but very good at what they do, and they please a lot of folk. I like them, both the band and the shop. I like Kenny Ball, and Wynton Marsalis as well but I Love Lau. Why? Well they provide proof that the British folk scene isn't just about chant along choruses and toe tapping tunes. Although Lau can do this - the Lightweights and Gentlemen album has many examples - Race the Loser shows them at their melancholy best. Faintly discordant fiddles vie with soulful accordian and ethereal guitar to furnish us with soundscapes that veer perilously close to avant garde at times. Backed up by various electronic effects at times and a weird breathy device on a couple of tracks (someone will fill me in as to what this is I hope) this album pushes folk to its limits and it is well worth coming along for the ride.
If Glen Moray is at the lighter end of single malt whiskies, this album is cask strength Laphroaig, not one for the faint of heart. If you let the taste linger, the sweetness and bite rewards the effort. I suggest you get yourself a decent dram of said single malt, turn the lights out and let this album transport you who knows where.
Most Recent Customer Reviews
Saw them on Jools Holland - liked what I heard - bought this CD. Yes it's good.Published 6 months ago by zen rockman
Bought it finally after hearing them live 2 years ago. They played the songs that are on this cd hence I like this one as it holds memories. They are better live though.Published 11 months ago by Jenny Stroom
Another masterpiece by Lau, they are even better if you get to see them livePublished 15 months ago by Tricky Dicky
If you like great folk music,this is a must have.The guys are great live,they put their soles into their music.Published 15 months ago by WestonSuperMare1968
Absolutely excellent music! However they are much better LIVE! :-))Published 17 months ago by El Rod
As with their previous Cd great and novel musicianship, very good instrumentalists, but IMO typical of Scottish folk music weak on the actual melody side, I'm sure Scottish folk... Read morePublished 21 months ago by PMG Rockman 65
Heard these guys on Folk on 2 and decided to treat ourselves. It's OK and undoubtedly smart musically but we won't be following these any further.Published on 14 Jan. 2014 by AmazonFan