Lakker: Tundra / Containing a Thousand / Mountain Divide (R&S)
Tundra is a quite focused and accomplished new album from Lakker, with a concise 55 minutes of consistent and unique electronic sounds. On their two most recent EPs that preceded the album, they seemed poised to take on a feverish and almost psychedelic quality, with swathes of noise and lurching rhythms that felt all at once oppressive and ascending. More on those to follow… Tundra, however, is a different animal altogether. As its title suggests, the atmosphere here is ice cold. “Echtrae” is a fine enough prologue, suggesting that assumptions about the album might be right on, but it’s with “Milch” that the tone shifts and presents listeners with something entirely new.
It’s startlingly simple in its arrangement, a galloping cluster of drums, airy vocals, and minimal synth pads. And yet with such a limited arrangement, they craft an immersive and fascinating world of sound. Once they pull us into its chilly but velvety corridors, their sounds shift and expand, but they maintain that icy core of floaty, melodious vocals.
An exception is the furious reprise of “Mountain Divide,” already released as the lead track of an EP a few months earlier. It has the blistering noise of vintage Pan Sonic and the hypnotic swirl of My Bloody Valentine, and yet despite all its harshness, it feels aspirational, electrifying — a bright polar white.
A more understated companion can be found in the title cut, sharing that same fuzzy edge but with more restraint. In fact, as an album, Tundra tends to oscillate between that bright snow blindness and eerier, more obfuscated sounds; “Three Songs” returns to the strange airy vocals that characterze “Milch,” layering light chorus female voices over rousing rhythms and sparse bass synth stabs. “Ton’neru” floats by with a shimmer and haze, capturing the nervous energy of the album’s prologue and expanding on it before slowing things down with the more patient stride of “Halite.”
It’s probably the most melodic of the cuts here, taking its time while a halfbeat and busier polyrhythms interact around its repetitive melodic phrases. My personal favorite of all is “Pylon,” wherein Lakker seem to effectively fuse together all these different moods and sounds. It has some grit, some wistfulness in its piano leads, and a handsome, chunky groove. it shares the mood that permeates most of the album but feels like it culminates all of the good stuff that precedes it. It has a point about 4 minutes in where it all snaps in place with a triumphant crash of distortion, perfection. The duo are well-served by their selectivity, keeping the album only 10 tracks long and under an hour. As a result, it’s cohesive, immersive, and satisfying, easily my favorite electronic album of 2015 so far.
As for the EPs that preceded the release of Tundra, they are both well worth hearing as well. “Containing a Thousand” has an oddly aspirational quality to it, a surprising dose of optimism compared to the often sinister sounds that have emanated from previous efforts. It verges on anthemic, with a faint melody that comes to the fore gradually, but it still buzzes with the electricity that’s often powered their past productions.
I’m surprised that they didn’t include this track on the album as well, because it’s certainly worthy, but that makes this EP wholly special that it’s exclusive. ”Mausoleum” slows things down considerably with a chugging, plodding pace, a downtempo dirge. Its lurch and industrial clatter give it an edge that’s welcome, enhanced by bending, strange tones serving as a loose sort of hook. It’s underpinned by a deep groan of sound that is relentless, heaving regularly from start to finish.
“K’antu” is different altogether, with a brighter, more syncopated and spacious rhythm kit, strange harmonics and overtones that lend it a beguiling vibe. “Thermohaline” shares a similar rhythmic sensibility, but it’s tougher and punchier, with swipes of noise amidst its hammering drum section. “Mountain Divide” is the same cut that reappears on the Tundra album, so I’ll focus on the B-sides here… “Math Fall” is another uptempo workout, sharing the sensibility of “K’antu” or “Thermohaline,” still relevant to the Tundra sessions, and yet sounding smartly positioned here.
Epilogue “Monla” is a lo-fi sketch of sound rather than a proper track in itself, but the combo of these EPs and the album makes for a pretty impressive slab of new tunes from Lakker that are as good as they are formidable. All three releases are highly, highly recommended. A collection of Tundra remixed is due out mid-August, stay tuned!