Nick Bollinger considers the first collaboration between singer-songwriter Laura Marling and folk-tronicist Mike Lindsay.
A few years ago Laura Marling scrapped an entire album because, as she explained it, she felt her creative spirit had run too far away from her. The songs were expressing things she didn’t want expressed.
But for her latest project she has given her creative spirit license to run as far as it likes. Which might be because this is not, strictly speaking, a Laura Marling album.
Lump is the first product of a new partnership between Marling and Mike Lindsay, London-based producer and founding member of the group Tunng.
Lump began about two years ago out of a chance meeting between Marling and Lindsay backstage at a Neil Young concert. Over a game of bowls (amazing the things that go on backstage at Neil Young concerts) Marling expressed an interest in hearing what Lindsay was working on, with a view to contributing. Within days they were recording together; within weeks they had completed this album. And it was only the fact that Marling already had an album of her own scheduled for release – last year’s excellent Semper Femina – that it has taken this long for the collaboration to appear.
Mike Lindsay’s music with Tunng is often described as ‘folktronica’, which makes sense given its playful mix of programmed and acoustic instruments, abstract soundscapes and lilting, near-traditional melodies. Marling started off as a singer-songwriter of the Joni Mitchell school. So one might expect that folk would be the common ground between Marling and Lindsay. But though there are recognisable folk elements on this album, the meeting point is more a conceptual one.
Marling has talked before about her interest in surrealism, particularly the life and work of the Mexican surrealist Leonora Carrington. She is also a student of psychoanalysis with a particular interest in dreams. But its as though she has, for the first time, let those interests run wild on this latest project.
“Sleep like a teen / paint dots on your wrist to see me in your dreams” she sings in the opening track, and a kind of dream logic governs the flow of words from there on in. And her explorations of the subconscious find an instrumental counterpart in Lindsay’s settings, which in their recognisable shapes and surprising juxtapositions suggest a kind of musical surrealism of their own.
Marling’s lyrics have always had elements of free association to them, but for this project she has felt free enough to stop making sense. On ‘Hand Hold Hero’ she meets Lindsay’s synth arpeggios and clickety percussive loops with an oblique set of near-Dylanisms, while on ‘Shake Your Shelter’ she ascribes human feelings to a crab.
With only six and a bit track and just over half an hour in length, Lump isn’t a long album, but it’s a cohesive one. In part that’s because the individual tracks are linked by an unobtrusive but continuous wobbly drone. Like a raga, or movements of a symphony, the songs are all in the same key, which doesn’t stop them from taking some sonic and rhythmic twists and turns.
Marling is a subtle and adaptable singer, and through all of this she exercises a range of voices, from low and conspiring to a trilling soprano. You can hear several of her different selves zig-zagging across each other’s lines on the wonderfully wonky rock song ‘Curse Of The Contemporary’.
With a new Tunng album due in August and more solo Marling surely in the pipeline, who knows whether Lump will be an ongoing project or just a delightful one-off. Either way, Marling and Lindsay have made a vivid, surreal folk-tronic opus, one that gives both of their creative spirits plenty of room to roam. It might be the album of a movie of a dream. In cinematic fashion, they even roll credits at the end.