The first track on an album is often intended as a mission statement; a track sets the listener up for what they’re about to experience over the course of the following set of songs. That is certainly the case with “Montuno,” the nearly 9 minute track that opens The Luyas’ new album Animator. “Montuno” opens with tinkles of piano, soft rumbles of percussion and lush strings building an atmosphere that leads into the track’s body where the strings take flight stunningly around a plodding melody and the soft vocals from singer Jessie Stein. It’s beautiful, but not necessarily exciting or memorable. By the time the track comes to its end you can’t help but feel that The Luyas spent the last 9 minutes headed somewhere that they never quite reach.
This problem is endemic on Animator. Time and time again The Luyas set themselves up in a soft kraut-like groove and fail to progress the song into something different, allowing it to fizzle out after four or five minutes. It’s evident that the band has spent plenty of time thinking about and building the textures on this album, with each different instrument sitting comfortably and clearly alongside each other in the mix, but too often the songs are calling out for something to come in and overtake them–to give them a new direction. Throughout these songs the bass remains buoyant but simple, the drums find a rhythm and keep it, Stein’s meek vocals fit nicely but barely catch the ear; rarely is there anything pushing or augmenting the energy of a song, meaning they remain travelling in straight unchanging lines from which the listener’s attention is bound to wander. Take “Face” for example, a song that features a promising sheen of violins and some twinkling piano adding plenty of glacial atmosphere, but the simplistic and unchanging bass, drums and vocals let Stein’s repetition of “I try to lose my face” slip by as a breath of monotony rather than a histrionic statement, as it should be.
Animator isn’t a complete writeoff; “Fifty/Fifty” finds the band playing with purpose, incorporating a driving bass and burbling synths to great effect, while on the other end of the scale Stein’s voice finds a much more comfortable home amidst the acoustic guitar and sparse arrangements of the pretty “Talking Mountains.” The strings remain achingly gorgeous throughout Animator and the use of brass and woodwinds to flesh out the sound in some songs is sparing, but always effective. These elements though, ultimately, only leave you wondering what The Luyas could have made if they had more of an edge or killer instinct in their songs–a question that will hopefully be answered on the band’s next album.
Plugging away since 1999, The National finally hit mainstream success with the release of their 2010 album High Violet. Of course, this entailed their first world tour, but in the new documentary Mistaken For Strangers, it’s only the backdrop for the relationship between lead singer Matt Berninger and his younger brother Tom, who had no idea that these short videos he was shooting would turn into a public document of their troubled, if still loving brotherhood.
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