Release Date: Jul 15, 2014
Record label: Sub Pop
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock, Alternative Pop/Rock, Alternative Singer/Songwriter, Indie Folk
The quest for authenticity in a music scene can quickly become a bane as well-intentioned young musicians often let their love for a certain artist or period turn into thinly veiled academic mimicry. We see it time and time again in what has become known as indie folk and the results are often acceptable, even pleasing at first. But a prewar six-string and stack of old LPs can only get you so far, and after a while the disguise wears thin, revealing stylized songs with an unfortunate lack of substance.
Head here to submit your own review of this album. The acoustic genre has been under something of a crisis in recent years, its folk roots ravaged by the likes of mainstream acoustic crooners Ed Sheeran and Ben Howard. YouTube is awash with hormonal teenagers covering every Taylor Swift and Mumford and Sons song to grace the Top 40, while others carve careers from stripping the emotion out of truly heart-yearning acoustic numbers (we're looking at you Birdy).
I first stumbled across Luluc when they were given a last-minute slot at The National’s ATP event in 2012 - at the time, the duo provided some welcome respite from Kronos Quartet’s more avant-garde moments, and there was mention of a forthcoming record being produced by The National’s Aaron Dessner. A year-and-a-half after that performance, Passerby has finally surfaced. Indeed, based on their history, Zoë Randell and Steve Hassett aren’t exactly prone to rushing things - their debut record Dear Hamlyn (a poignant dedication to Randell’s father) was released all the way back in 2008, so it’s taken six years for all the pieces to fall into place for a follow-up.
"Flying over Chicago/ Bare trees line the white snow," are the opening lines of this second album from Australian duo Luluc and they set the tone for what follows: a stripped-back, nostalgia-prone record full of quiet observations, many of them made through distant windows. Singer Zoë Randell is preoccupied by details – kids walking home from school, the play of sunlight against a wall – and the accompaniment (from Steve Hassett, with help from the National's Aaron Dessner) is fittingly low key: unadorned guitar work, snatches of piano. It's Randell's lovely voice, full and rounded but never overused, that gives the album its potency.
Six years on from their modest debut ‘Dear Hamlyn’, Melbourne duo Luluc return with 10 tracks brimful of folky acoustic guitars. Their main asset is Zoe Randell’s gentle vocal – her angelic voice is reminiscent of the husky croon of former Jefferson Airplane singer Grace Slick, with a hippy ’60s spirituality emanating from her heart. The influence of ’70s singer-songwriter Vashti Bunyan is evident in the softly strummed chords of ‘Gold On The Leaves’ while the elegant ‘Tangled Heart’ marks the album’s superb, slow-building apex, growing from the poetic verse to a warm climax of brass horns.
On the title track to Luluc’s second album—and their Sub Pop debut—Zoë Randell laments what she calls “the passerby life.” The song recounts several friends who have come and gone, some human and some not: a bearded guy named Mike Brown, an old man she knew as Mr. Finnegan, “a young dying baby lamb” that she fed by hand, “a tiny Christmas Island bird” with a broken wing. They’re lovely images and poignant remembrances, especially sung in Randell’s robustly ruminative voice and set to Steve Hassett’s gentle acoustic strums.
In a musical landscape increasingly defined by ironic worship and cheap shock-value packaging, the Australian folk duo Luluc feel like something of an authenticated rarity. They got the knowing thumbs-up of legendary producer Joe Boyd (known for his work with Pink Floyd, Nick Drake, R.E.M. and the Nike Drake tribute record Luluc appeared on last year).
Conjuring discrete fanfare in 2008 with their debut record Dear Hamlyn, Luluc stumped a fair few reviewers, leaving them trapped by the confines of the much-loathed ‘Synonyms’ generator. To be fair to my brothers from another mother, an indie-folk duo on Sub Pop was never going to be a hook-laden, roller coaster ride through adjectiville – but then again, why should it be? Despite some critic’s impatience, Luluc have been praised by their peers, most saliently by Matt Beringer from The National: “I’ve played Passerby on repeat, for months it was the only album I wanted to listen to. ” With a string of notable admirers and producers, Passerby comes with a weight of expectation that is potentially detrimental to its reception and is most certainly unwanted by the artists.