Luluc – Passerby

luluc-passerby-1450.webIt’s been almost exactly six years since Luluc’s seminal debut, Dear Hamlyn, incited a calm reverie. Co-produced by the Australian duo and Aaron Dessner of The National fame, on it they established a chemistry that was built to last. The group of young musicians have since recorded a number for The Hunger Games: Catching Fire – Steve Hassett providing backup vocals – and they’ve recently employed Dessner’s Brooklyn-based garage studio for the beautiful Passerby.

Six years is, of course, a long wait by many standards, but with a long wait comes a long time to hone their craft, and this latest release is an apple very much plucked from the same tree as their original. That’s not to say there’s nothing new or novel here, rather that the indie-folk pair have established a characteristic sound and space for themselves, granting their albums a certain coherency. While their debut served as a tribute to Zoë Randell’s father, Passerby is a mortar of simple spices and gentle arrangements, each track tackling love, longing, and loss. Admittedly, it doesn’t veer too far from their roots, but they continue to deliver that mix to a high quality.

With a duo you may wonder how much variation there really is between songs. After all, how innovative can you be with a guitarist and a singer, albeit the almost ethereal vocals of Randell?  On Passerby, Luluc make frequent use of a cadre of session musicians, from string sections to touches of brass horns, and the vocal is as much a central aspect of the instrumentation as Hassett’s understated six-string: an infusion akin to the likes of Patrick Watson or Angus and Julia Stone.

There’s also a notable commonality and smooth continuity to each track. They’ve clearly learned the lesson that less is often more, as each is crafted with intent, with nothing included that isn’t absolutely necessary. Their sophomore simply allows things to unfold in their due time, slight details being accentuated to the utmost clarity through unobtrusive melodies, each hanging neatly together.

“Without a Face”, for instance - the leading work released for streaming back in April - is a slow-burning and entrancing finger-picked piece featuring a soft string section. Though, as ever, it’s not over-powering. Zoë’s vocals are allowed the space to fully express themselves, and it serves as a great introduction to Luluc’s style. The title track is also both lyrically and instrumentally in a similar vein, embodying the recurring theme of disenchantment and past flirtations with love, here alongside a calming piano support. The standout track, whilst cut from the same cloth, is definitely “Tangled Heart”. Hassett’s backing abutment together with the piece’s rhythmic grunge feel gives it an air of the experimental. There’s also an apparent biographical edge with such lines as, “In New York City trying to find our own feet”.

Passerby, then, is a welcome return from the Aussie ensemble, and if slow, sombre pieces are your thing, this should undoubtedly enter your summer playlist with great ease.

Release: 14th July 2014, Sub Pop

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