Release Date: Sep 22, 2009
Record label: Hardly Art
Genre(s): Indie, Rock, Electronic
Like first watching a movie on an old black-and-white TV and then seeing it in an IMAX theatre with the sound cranked up, Le Loup’s sweeping sophomore set, Family, is a great leap forward for the D.C. fivesome. Mashing up hypnotic chants, beguiling banjo licks, head-spinning melodies and sonic tomfoolery, these 11 cinematic songs are the pseudo-psychedelic soundtrack to a most wonderful dream.
A few things have changed since The Throne of the Third Heaven of the Nations' Millennium General Assembly's release, not the least of which is the addition of four new members to Le Loup's lineup (Christian Ervin, Michael Ferguson, Robby Sahm, and Jim Thomson). What was once a spare, introspective solo project has turned into a lush, outgoing group effort, and it results in Le Loup's most fully realized, not to mention celebratory, work to date. Sophisticated but not stuffy, ambitious but rarely self-indulgent, Family offers an example of the stuff that can go right on a second release.
Upon first listen, there is something very uncool about the deeply folk-steeped harmonised vocals on Le Loup’s second album Family. Track one, ‘Saddle Mountain’ is an American re-imagination of the sparsest of medieval English folk, ethereal vocals backed only by a stoic bass drum, with occasional banjo licks to punctuate the huge amounts of space on the track. Somewhere in the background there is a very faint bubbling synth which develops into an ambient sample of schoolchildren playing, (which sounds suspiciously like it was nicked from the My Morning Jacket album Z) but this is very much an acquired taste.
"Le Loup" means "the wolf" in French. Sam Simkoff, frontman of the D.C.-based indie pop quintet that bears the appellation, claims he chose it to riff on all the other indie groups out there with the word "Wolf" in their names, self-consciously ratcheting up the pretentiousness meter by translating it into another tongue. It's a great joke that shows Simkoff has a keen eye for hipster trends, and his band's music is likewise plugged in to the zeitgeist.
The banjo has a very distinct sound. Much like the sitar or the bagpipes, it instantly conjures up images of a particular place: sitar = India, bagpipes = Scotland, and banjo = rural South. I mean, who hasn’t made a “dueling banjos” joke/reference before? However, over the last decade or so, the banjo has been getting a bit of a facelift via indie rock.
There’s been a constant pull to combine the best elements of folk into these uniquely open pastoral and electronic feels. Remember when artists featured trepidation with quietness, and even liveliness, with downtrodden touches? For many bands and artists, this has been an exercise in experimentation and for many, it’s worked out well. Le Loup’s Family follows in this same path, combining terrific styles into one awesomely kindled spirit, and with enough creativity to make it all sound distinctive; it’s an entirely gifted listen into the music an improving band is capable of.