Neither the traditional songwriting by singers Jess Wolfe and Holly Laessig nor the pop-rock instrumentation – guitars, keyboards, synth, bass and drums, heavily gated and processed though they are – break new ground in themselves. But there’s a reason this group caught the attention of the producers of Radiolab’s live shows and captivated my ear when I first heard the band on those broadcasts.
It’s the forceful liquid harmonies, smoothed and rocked by lots of ohs and ahs. And it’s the dense sound tapestries and intriguing arrangements that pull your brain to and fro like a sonic slalom course. And all of it leavened by a sensibility mature enough not to take itself too too seriously.
The very best songs come at you right away, but the closing track, “How Loud Your Heart Gets,” exemplifies the Lucius approach, smashing a chorus about how “I’m going to get you” over traditional doo-wop chords into a jam of heavily layered sound, and ending with a George Martin-esque bubble of scattered half-musical noise.
The title track, too, reflects the pleasure the band takes in re-imagining old styles. It’s essentially a 1960s-girl-group type of song in a modern electronica-bathed setting, and mastered at a super-saturated level (my only complaint about the CD). In what may be the disc’s best song, “Turn It Around,” a dark Shirley Manson side of the vocal tone comes to the fore iced with an angsty grrl-pop snarl.
The angular ballad “Go Home,” another top track, contrasts calm verses with wailing choruses, grunge-style, but there’s not a thread of flannel here, all couture is man-made and neon-colored. “Tempest” could be a Petula Clark pop hit transfigured into a universe of space wars and warp drive. And “Nothing Ordinary” has an especially sci-fi-flavored feel; something about the way Wolfe and Laessig mic and process their vocals is transportive, magnifying their inherent intensity.
On the whole, the second half of the album isn’t as strong, song-wise, but it sounds always vital, never tired. “Until We Get There” motors along like a train, and “Don’t Just Sit There” despite its questioning theme (“Tell me what I want to know…Did you find love again?”) in fact makes it hard to “just sit there” as you listen.
Combining well-honed songcraft with highly creative, truly original soundscaping, Lucius has come up with something really new in pop music. How rare is that?