Review: Lau

First published in the Guardian on 15 May, 2015

There’s devious melancholy to the verse depicted on Glasgow’s coat of arms: Here is the bell that never rang/ Here is the fish that never swam. Actually the lines refer to the miracles of St Mungo and that cheeky dolefulness masks a certain chutzpah; to me it always seemed a quintessentially Glaswegian trick.

Lau are currently touring their latest album, The Bell that Never Rang, whose long title track was commissioned around last year’s Commonwealth Games and whose subtle, boisterous cleverness treads a similar line to that verse. Lau are typically referred to as ‘experimental folk’, usually with various glowing superlatives attached. They compose in intricate layers, play about with form, motor along to fun, glitchy beats and the odd bout of grungy electro-acoustic noise-making. Bartok’s string quartets were an inspiration and it shows in the motivic development. Mainly the tunes on The Bell That Never Rang are sturdy and supremely singable, thrumming with the exuberance of dazzling players and inventive musical minds.

And for all their rousing builds and muscular attack, Lau’s live shows are brilliant for their restraint as much as their exuberance. They’re tasteful enough not to do too much, and here they often distilled their sound down to essential parts — a tune built on a simple bass line from Martin Green’s accordion or a brief, propulsive figure from Aidan O’Rourke’s fiddle while Kris Drever’s unflinching voice rang out above. The acoustic of this ornately vaulted church made the trio sound vast, and sometimes I missed a more stripped back sound — in the gorgeous waltz Ghosts, for example, or Lal Waterson’s Midnight Feast. But that’s a minor complaint. Buy the album, catch a tour date; Lau’s gritty, roaming lyricism is a treat.

Touring until June 28