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Lau Race the Loser Review

Album. Released 2012.  

BBC Review

A third album brimming over with intoxicating, mesmerising music.

Jude Rogers 2012

In this album's opening moments, you're thrown. Here are ambient electronics, and a pulse like a heartbeat. Here's Martin Green's accordion sounding far from traditional, next to a processed drum sound gurgling and fading.

Then comes the heavenly sound of Aidan O'Rourke's clear, direct violin, and Kris Drever's Orkney burr – the latter coming two minutes into Race the Loser's first track, Saint Monday. Lyrics about “ageless eyes” and forlorn warehouses wisp into the air, announcing this trio's new direction boldly, and with mystery.

Despite winning Best Group at the Radio 2 Folk Awards three times, Lau have dipped their toes often into less-traditional waters for their third album. Last year alone, they played a Celtic Connections concert with Cream's Jack Bruce and made an EP with folktronica godfather Adem; in the pipeline soon is an orchestral work with Irish composer Brian Irvine.

But on Race the Loser, Lau approached US producer Tucker Martine to freshen their sound, a man who has worked with Sufjan Stevens, R.E.M., The Decemberists and his wife Laura Veirs.

Fans of The Decemberists, in particular, will find much to enjoy here: nine compelling, densely textured tracks made in a seven-day session. Every experiment works gorgeously, almost alchemically. Far From Portland, named after Martine's hometown, marries crunching tape sounds, Bert Jansch-like guitars, and an outro that recalls Mogwai's gentler moments – and it works.

The Bird That Winds The Spring takes handclap percussion into a gorgeously melancholy place, where Drever's protagonist “lays his wages” at “street altars”. Throwing Pennies could stop breath with its lyrics about hearts being weighed down by anchors. Missing Pieces is as outre as it gets, but still lovely: a 38-second, Eno-worthy interlude.

Lau's traditional fans, however, won't be disappointed. Torsa and Noltland Castle are rich with the band's roots, in all senses. So is the closing Beer Engineer, until it veers off dramatically with an organ and violin psychedelically whirling.

Race the Loser ends as it begins, which makes it even more impressive: an album for alternative music lovers as much as folk fans, brimming over with intoxicating, mesmerising music.

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