When the good ship Lau was launched with “Lightweights and Gentlemen” in 2007 – the infectious-to-pandemic-proportions “Hinba” was the champagne effervescing across the bows. In the ten years since that gobsmacking, ‘what the folk?’ epiphany, they’ve produced three more genre-busting albums, leaving us to scrape our jaws off the floor each time. “Decade” is a celebration of the first ten years of Lau’s visionary exploits, in which time the band has taken four ‘Best Group’ BBC Folk Awards and each member of the trio has been lauded for his solo work.
Lau was formed by three men with similar sonic palates and a pioneering desire to seek the unexpected via the traditional – three men that make the sound of three times that many. “Hinba” set the tone for the future soundscape, with Kris Drever’s intricate guitar as the engine room, driving forward the momentum, mixed with Aidan O’Rourke’s clean, nifty fiddling and Martin Green’s avant-garde, other-worldly accordion. Add Drever’s meaty, peaty vocals to certain tracks, like album opener “Unquiet Grave” and distillation is complete. Lau is ingenuity cubed. A superlative ear-bashing. The least incidental instrumentals you could ever hear.
“Lightweights and Gentlemen” provides the first four songs, with the haunting, sinister dialogue of “Unquiet Grave” between the grave’s inhabitant and a mourning lover, leading the living to call, ‘I crave one kiss of your cold, clay lips’ and the deceased to reply, ‘my breath smells earthly strong’. Yum! The excitingly careering “Hinba” proceeds on to “Gallowhill” – simple, sparse guitar picking, while O’Rourke’s fiddle gently weeps, before fourteen-minute gig staple, “The Lang Set” ups the pace again.
Hangover anthem “Wintermoon”, (‘Beyond repair one dismal morning,/ Redemption waiting in the afternoon’), their tribute to the lack of geographical height in Martin Green’s native East Anglia “Horizontigo” and quintessence of Lau attack, “The Burrian” represent album two, “Arc Light” admirably, showcasing their successful ventures into electronic wizardry. The rasp and churn of “Far from Portland”, the tender, compassionate portrayal of homelessness “Throwing Pennies” and the crescendo-ing acceleration of “Torsa” evoke 2012’s “Race the Loser”. “First Homecoming”, and perhaps their finest album closer to date, “Ghosts” speak for 2015’s “The Bell That Never Rang”.
Rolling out a ‘Best Of’ can seem like a pragmatic business move to some bands. Curated by the band and Tom Rose of Reveal Records, from suggestions give online by fans, this release feels like a considered chronology and genuine celebration of the story so far. It will fuel the tenth anniversary tour in November and December, which can only (sonically and pleasurably) be a blast.
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