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The Lucksmiths - Naturaliste

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Artist: The Lucksmiths

Album: Naturaliste

Label: Drive-In

Review date: Aug. 12, 2003

Bedroom Poetics

If inertia propels certain bands from song to song, clashing and cascading from point A to point B, other bands deftly harbor kinetic energy. The Lucksmiths fall into the latter category. On their most recent album, Naturaliste, each song represents a slow and calculated diffusion of musical energy, immersed in the observation of everyday troubles and events.

The Australian-based trio deserves credit for providing brilliant fodder for a generation of ambivalent lovers; words of wisdom to everyone who has ever lied in bed smoking a cigarette and wondering what the person next to them was thinking. Kinetic energy also seems apt because many of the Lucksmiths’ songs involve motion or the lack thereof – the listener is invited to participate in the languorous back and forth of a supine couple, or the scorned lover’s beer-fueled philosophy. The Lucksmiths’ music gives off the visceral feeling of light filtering into a smoky bedroom upturned and cluttered, ashtrays and beer bottles strewn all over (a topic the band masterfully addresses in the song “Smokers in Love,” from the Staring at the Sky EP.) The listener is invited into this messy yet intimate scene.

Besides the occasional use of a glockenspiel or harmonium, the Lucksmiths stick to the basic formula of guitar, drums, and vocals. While all three members of the band contribute vocals, Tali White’s voice provides their unique sound. Gifted with the ability to convey sentimentality without lapsing into melodrama, White also has the rare talent to affect a sea change in a song’s emotional mood through slight modulations in tone and pitch. For a band that relies on cleverness, subtlety is a must. If the Lucksmiths were to possess a trademark, it would probably be the “la-la-la” or “ba-ba-bada-ba-ba” bubblegum choruses on many songs that frame their narratives, a type of comic relief that slyly refers to pop music’s insipid and self-pitying quality.

On Naturaliste, as with previous albums, Marty Donald and Mark Monnone split songwriting duties. Although the differences are only slight, Donald is wittier while Monnone tends towards larger themes in his songs. In “The Sandringham Line,” the name of a commuter rail, Donald describes the pensive thoughts of a traveler between the suburbs and the city and the insights that are part of the continued transit between two points. Like most of the songs it is relentlessly in the present – the urban dweller commenting that “Every now and then she misses horses/ We’re too young for regrets / This is the closest that she gets.” On “Midweek Midmorning” Donald provides some wisdom to that ever-prevalent topic to the unemployed – what to do with oneself, and the guilt of spending a beautiful day inside and apathetic, lying in bed, “beneath the stains on the ceiling.” As a comparison, Monnone covers a similar topic on the “Perfect Crime,” although the ambiance is a bit more tragic. Here two lovers spend their day in the country, and the crime committed is that of enjoying each other’s company without succumbing to the arguments and questioning that usually befalls their time together.

My favorite song on the album is Donald’s “Stayaway Stars,” which epitomizes the success the Lucksmiths can achieve through simplicity and wordplay. The song begins in a slow, ballad-like form, with White nonchalantly singing that “I sometimes forget just how seldom you cry / And thus how much I hate it when you do.” Building up, the song comes to a brilliant climax, with qualities that almost make for an indie musical (perhaps I am voicing my own theatrical dreams here, to set a musical/movie in a smoky bar with melancholy pieces provided by bands such as the Lucksmiths, Masters of the Hemisphere, Kings of Convenience, and maybe a guest appearance by the Connells, to appeal to an older crowd – it would probably be existential drivel). The song’s ending chorus, which is joined by their Canadian tourmates the Salteens, repeats in strained voices “What sorry sights we sometimes are / These sameshit nights under stayaway stars / These sameshit nights in the saddest bars / The city lights and the stayaway stars.” The chorus here and the muted, yet powerful effect of numerous voices expressing these lines, gives the song an almost universal quality. While it is dangerous for the listener to appropriate a band’s idiosyncratic sentiments into their own world, on “Stayaway Stars” there is an almost overwhelming temptation to declare: “I know what you mean.”

If the Lucksmiths were prone to any type of criticism, it would probably be that they don’t really have anything special to say. Their songs are like a character in a Walker Percy novel, bumbling about with no pretensions of engaging the world in any “meaningful” manner. A friend with whom I was listening to Naturaliste commented that she liked the album, but thought that its repetitive style and subject matter would wear her appreciation thin after a while. I don’t think this has to be the case. The lyrics are clever enough that a close reading will yield different interpretations; the music itself is happy enough that it could reasonably be forced into the role of vapid background noise. Together, the two reach a pleasant and lasting degree of complexity.

By Andy Urban

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