It starts with a shimmer. Electronic echoes reverb in cavernous soundscapes before Laura Marling’s voice emerges from the emptiness, kicking off the second LUMP album (her collaborative project with producer Mike Lindsay) with the mysterious line, ‘I heard a word that they paint mirrors on their face’. While Marling’s lyrics have always trended towards the literary, Animal is an animal where she immerses herself in the poetic, crafting lines that can be picked apart, carefully examined, then put back together again to craft wholly new interpretations. When I originally announced Animal was my album of the year for 2021, I said of opening track Bloom at Night: ‘[it’s] a beautiful reflection on male desire to not just be with women, but to own them’. When I listened again while preparing to write this post, I found myself wondering whether it was about the relationship between man and woman at all, but instead the connection between artist and critic. My own understanding of the song continues to shift the more I listen, which is perhaps what keeps me coming back to explore more.
Marling’s work is typically folk-adjacent, sometimes venturing off into the realms of electric guitar-led soft rock or jazz, but rarely has it embraced the electronic, technological pulse that’s been present over the two LUMP albums. It helps keep the side project feeling distinct from her own releases, while also giving her a chance to explore new structures. Whereas first LUMP album sometimes felt a little underbaked, Animal feels like Marling and Lindsay have completely committed to their collaboration, and it serves as a better fusion of their points of view for it. While LUMP (the album) could be meandering and hookless, Animal is a rhythmic, pulsing beast. Take a listen to the title track and see for yourself:
The song vibrates with energy, vaguely threatening in its trance-like instrumental. It repeats in on itself, hooking back around and capturing the listener in its rhythms. It’s the kind of song that’s easy to get lost in on repeat, to just lie back to and feel yourself fade into the pulse powering Marling along. Following track Climb Every Wall feels even more accessible – its verses are incredibly hooky, somewhat reminiscent of Chairlift in their Amanaemonesia days. That Marling manages to make lines like ‘deliberate acts of pretension’ feel like a natural extension of the music and not a forced moment of ‘oh look how good at writing I am’ is genuinely rather impressive.
Perhaps the most enduring moments on the album however, come in the form of two stark tracks in the latter half of its 44 minute run time. Red Snakes and Oberon manage to show the true strength in marrying Marling’s vocals and writing prowess with electronic instrumentation – whereas her typical acoustic guitars and real instruments feel inherently warm, here these songs feel almost discomforting in their sparsity, Lindsay’s computerised productions helping to isolate Marling’s voice in the mix and creating a wonderfully dread-filled atmosphere. It’s easy to call songs ‘beautiful’, to the point where it increasingly feels like empty praise, but with both of these tracks, it honestly feels like the most apt description.
I have to admit, while I’m a big fan of Marling, I was not impressed by the first LUMP album, and I didn’t really have massively high hopes going into a second. To say I was pleasantly surprised would be an understatement. Animal is an invigorating, fascinating listen that feels like a fully realised counterpoint to Marling’s solo productions. 2020’s Song For Our Daughter was the pinnacle of her solo career so far, and with Animal, she’s hitting new highs in her collaborative works too. I think it’s truly safe to say that we’re witnessing Marling in her golden era with these two releases, and I eagerly anticipate finding out exactly what’s going to come next. Hopefully we don’t have too long to wait.