LAU-THE BELL THAT NEVER RANG.

LAU-THE BELL THAT NEVER RANG. 

Ever since the release of their 2007 debut album. Lightweights and Gentlemen, Lau have been variously described as “adventurous,” and “modern folk’s most innovative band.” That’s no exaggeration. Lau are, without doubt, one of the most exciting and ambitious folk bands of their generation. That’s why Kris Drever, Martin Green and Aidan O’Rourke have been winning awards, praise and plaudits ever since. This includes, winning the BBC Folk Award for the best group four times in six years. That takes some doing. However, Lau are no ordinary band.

Far from it. Lau are a groundbreaking group who release pioneering music. They’re also perfectionists. They always have been. 

Ever the perfectionists, Lau freely admit to spending up to three weeks on a song. That’s been the case since Lau’s early days. They spent a year honing their songs and sound before releasing their debut album, Lightweights and Gentlemen. There was no way that Lau were going to release Lightweights and Gentlemen until they, and the album was ready. Their patience paid off, and ever since the release of Lightweights and Gentlemen, Lau’s star has been in the ascendancy. 

Over the next eight years, Lau have released four further albums. Their latest album, The Bell That Never Rang, was recently released on Reveal Records. It’s the first album Lau have released since 2012s critically acclaimed Race The Loser. That’s not unusual though.

Ever since the early days of Lau, the three members have worked on other projects. Despite these other projects, they’ve always returned to Lau, which the three members fondly describe as “the mothership.”

On their return to the “the mothership,” Kris Drever, Martin Green and Aidan O’Rourke hit the live circuit with Lau. Soon, Lau had established a reputation as one of Scotland’s best live bands. Whether it was festivals or small intimate venues, Lau lifted the roof with their unique brand of folk music. Proof of this came on their second album Live. Combining electronic and traditional instruments Lau soon garnered a large, loyal following, who waiting Lau’s next studio album with baited breath. 

Two years after their debut album Lightweights and Gentlemen, Lau released their sophomore studio album Arc Light, in 2009. Released to critical acclaim, critics hailed Arc Light as further proof that Lau were the future of folk music. Soon, other artist were wanting to collaborate with Lau.

First to collaborate with Lau was Karine Polwart. Five new songs were recorded. When Lau Vs. Karine Polwart released Evergreen, this reinforced and enhanced both Lau and Karine’s reputation as two of modern folk’s most best artists. Then in 2010, acoustic and electronic artist and producer Adem collaborated with Lau. Together, they recorded seven new tracks, which were released as Lau Vs. Adem’s Ghosts. The second in the Vs. Lau series proved just as successful as the first. As if this wasn’t encouraging enough, Lau’s reputation as a live band was still growing at home and abroad. All that was needed was another studio album from Lau.

Back in Castlesound Studios, Pencaitland, Lau recorded the nine tracks that became Race The Loser in May 2012. Lead vocalist Kres Drever played guitars and harmonica, Martin Green played accordion, Wurlitzer organ and electronics, while Aidan O’Rourke played the fiddle. Producing Race The Loser was Grammy Award nominated producer Tucker Martine. With a C.V. that included working with Sufjan Stevens, Camera Obscura, R.E.M. and Laura Veirs, having Tucker produce Race The Loser was quite a coup. However, would it pay off?

When Race The Loser was released in 2012. Praise, plaudits and critical acclaim came Lau’s way. Race The Loser was no ordinary folk album. It was much more than that. While folk was the most predominant influence, but were elements of jazz, rock, electronica and soul. The soul comes in the shape of Kris’ world-weary, all-knowing vocal. His vocal played a part in what was a folk album for the 21st Century. Race The Loser was a career defining album from Lau. However, would Lau followup an album like Race The Loser?

Lau’s loyal fans have been waiting three years to find out the answer to that question. Now the wait is over. Lau released recently The Bell That Never Rang. This six track album is the next chapter in the Lau story.

For The Bell That Never Rang, Kris Drever penned the lyrics to the six songs. These six songs were recorded at Lau’s studio of choice, Castlesound Studios. Producing The Bell That Never Rang, was Joan Wasser, a.k.a. Joan As Police Woman. Adam Sachs and Stuart Hamilton took charge of engineering duties. This allowed Lau to do what they did best, make music.

As The Bell That Never Rang sessions got underway, vocalist Kres Drever played guitars, Martin Green played accordion and “electronics,” while Aidan O’Rourke played the fiddle. They were joined by the Elysian Quartet. Its lineup features violinists Emma Smith and Jennymay Logan, Vince Sipprell on viola and Laura Moody on cello. Joan Wasser added vocals on The Bell That Never Rang. Once the recording of The Bell That Never Rang was completed, it was mastered in New York  by Fred Kevorkian. All that was left was for The Bell That Never Rang to be released.

Just like previous albums, The Bell That Never Rang was released to widespread critical acclaim. Lau were back, and back to their innovative best. The Bell That Never Rang was triumphant return from Lau. So, when

The Bell That Never Rang was released earlier this week it should’ve been a joyous occasion. It was. However, there was a sense of sadness. When recording The Bell That Never Rang, Lau brought onboard a string quartet, the Elysian Quartet. They player their part in The Bell That Never Rang’s sound and success. Sadly, their viola player, Vince Sipprell, had died on 30th January 2015.  By then, The Bell That Never Rang recording session were completed. So, Lau dedicated The Bell That Never Rang to Vince Sipprell, a talented and dedicated musician. He played his part in the success of Lau’s new album The Bell That Never Rang.

Opening The Bell That Never Rang is First Homecoming.  It’s a track that showcases Lau’s unique brand of innovative folk. A rumbling sound in joined by a plink plonk guitar and wistful strings. Soon, thunderous drums signal the arrival of Kris’ vocal and a chirping guitar. There’s a sense of hope and joy in Kris’ vocal as he delivers the cinematic lyrics. He’s a changed man. No longer is he alone, now that he’s found someone to love: “in this new place I call my home.” Previously, this seemed out of reach, but: “I’ve lost the urge to be by myself.” By the time Kris delivers that line, seamlessly, the arrangement has come together. As the strings dance, drums pound and the guitar chimes, as Kris experiences hope, happiness and joy.

Martin Green’s accordion and Kris Drever’s chirping guitar unite on the irresistible The Death of the Dining Car. Soon, the Elysian Quartet add dancing strings. Lau it seems are returning to their traditional Scottish roots. However, being Lau, there’s always expect a twist. It comes when pounding, mesmeric drums accompany Kris’ vocal. He dawns the role of a storyteller. Meanwhile the drums inject a sense of urgency and drama. It’s with a sense of sadness that Kris delivers the lyrics. They too have a cinematic quality, as the rest of Lau fuse musical genres. Everything from electronica, folk, indie rock and Scottish traditional music are combined seamlessly, on his stomping anthem. 

Back in Love Again has a much more understated sound.  Kris strums his trusty acoustic guitar. Soon, lush strings sweep in from the distance. They flit in and out of the arrangement, playing yin to Kris’ yan. That’s until gradually, things begin to change. From the distance, a wash of sound enters. Gradually, it grabs your attention. That was its raison d’être. Now you’re paying attention, Kris delivers another hopeful vocal. Or is should it be cautious optimism, given he’s: “falling Back in Love Again?” As he delivers his hopeful vocal, the accordion and guitar propel the arrangement along. Augmenting Kris’ vocal are tender harmonies, they add to the beauty and soulfulness of this captivating, ethereal ballad.

A Lau album is not unlike Forest Gump’s box of chocolates, you never know what you’re gonna get.” Tiger Hill (Armoured Man) marks another change of direction. With its plink plonk guitars and myriad of disparate sounds, it’s as if Lau have been inspired by Fridge. Soon, a wash of moody, broody music sees a change of tack, before briefly, Lau pay homage to firstly Cream and then C.S.N.&Y. It’s the harmonies that leads to the C.S.N.&Y comparison. Later, washes of strings and a quivering, shivering guitar are added. They play their part what’s beginning to sound like another a cinematic sounding track. That’s until later, when Lau are transformed into an innovative power trio. Stabs of mellow keyboard accompany harmonies, as musical chameleons Lau, bring this magical, musical mystery tour on a melodic high.

The one way to describe The Bell That Never Rang is a seventeen minute epic.  Slowly, and gradually, the arrangement begins to take shape. At the heart of its sound and success are the Elysian Quartet. Their elegiac and balletic strings, meander and skip across the arrangement, adding an ethereal, and sometimes wistful beauty. Later, they add an element of drama, as they’re played firmly and with a sense of purpose. As they reach a crescendo, the arrangement briefly bubbles dramatically. It then returns to its wistful, ethereal sound. Especially with Kris adding guitar, Martin accordion and Aidan his fiddle. Seamlessly, Lau the Elysian Quartet feed off each other, inspiring each other to greater heights. Sometimes, the music becomes cinematic, other times the Celtic influence is unmistakable. The Celtic influence is the signal for Kris to deliver his vocal. With just Lau accompanying him, he delivers a pensive, wistful and emotive vocal. Sadness is omnipresent as he sings: “nobody knows when you’ll go and no-one thinks to tell you.” While Kris delivers a thoughtful vocal, the rest of Lau add harmonies adding to the ethereal beauty and wistfulness of this seventeen minute Magnus Opus.

Ghosts closes The Bell That Never Rang. It’s another understated ballad. This is something Lau do so well. As Kris plays his acoustic guitar, he hums. It’s as if he’s just sitting at home playing his guitar. Instead, the red light is shining, and the tape is running. He delivers an inspired performance, singing of the “Ghosts” of his past. They surround him, and are everywhere. He realises that as he wonders where he would go to escape them. His lyrics, and his delivery of them are both beautiful and haunting. Especially with washes of accordion and a pulsating drums that plays in the background. They prove the perfect accompaniment to Kris on this hauntingly beautiful ballad.

Although it’s three years since we last heard from Lau, the three year wait for The Bell That Never Rang has been well worth the wait. The Bell That Never Rang oozes quality and beauty. From the opening bars of First Homecoming, right through to the closing notes of Ghosts, The Bell That Never Rang is a captivating album. The music is beautiful, dramatic, elegiac, ethereal, haunting and wistful. Other times it’s anthemic, hopeful and joyous. Quite simply, it’s an album that’s designed to toy with your emotions. 

Throughout The Bell That Never Rang, Lau toy with your emotions on what’s akin to a magical, musical mystery tour. As mystery tours go, Lau spring surprises aplenty. No two tracks are the same. Indeed, often during the same track, Lau throw a curveball. The song heads in a totally different direction. It’s as if Lau are determined to keep the listener on their toes during The Bell That Never Rang. They succeed in doing so, on this old school album.

There’s a reason I refer to The Bell That Never Rang as an old school album. It features just six songs and lasts forty-four minutes. This means that The Bell That Never Rang would fit perfectly onto a vinyl album. That’s what bands used to do. However, that’s until the CD.

Since then, bands release sprawling, fifteen track albums. It’s as if they feel obliged to fill the CD. Ironically, they’re doing themselves a huge disservice. Usually, by the tenth track, the quality is starting to suffer. By the fifteenth and final track, the track should’ve stayed on the cutting room floor. Quality control, it seems, is sadly lacking. That, however, isn’t case with Lau.

Far from it. Only the creme de la creme makes it onto a Lau album. Remember, Lau are the archetypal perfectionists. They home and shape song until they’re totally satisfied with it. Only then, will they make it onto an album. That was the case with The Bell That Never Rang.

Each of the six of songs that made it onto The Bell That Never Rang, feature the Edinburgh based musical alchemists at their innovative best. The Bell That Never Rang sees Lau seamlessly combine disparate musical genres. Everything from  Celtic, electronica, electro, folk, indie rock and rock is thrown into Lau’s melting pot. Producer Joan Wasser sprinkles some sonic magic and then gives this musical melting pot a stir. Only then is this musical treat ready to serve.

And what a dish it is. It’s fit for a king or queen. Lau have surpassed their previous efforts. The Bell That Never Rang marks a triumphant return from Lau. After three years away, Edinburgh based musical mavericks Lau, make a welcome return with their genre defying Magnus Opus, The Bell That Never Rang.

LAU-THE BELL THAT NEVER RANG. 

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