For those many, many souls not in The Know, Luluc are a gentle Australian duo who play über-low-key tunes with a peaceful hippy-hint of the winter of ’69 canyon sound. It’s a thoroughly relaxing listening experience, and it really, really gets Pitchfork’s blood boiling!
Thank God the tastemakers at P4K are around to crush these purveyors of unwokeness who, with their virtually thousands of streams, are obviously poised to take over the music industry and the musical conversation entirely. Debates for years ahead could draw to a stalemate with one person saying, “Well, Luluc said there were all these different lives open to us, so clearly welfare needs to be defunded across the nation. Up by your bootstraps is what Luluc says!” [Note: They do not say this.]
P4K contributor, Madison Bloom, began her review of Luluc’s latest album, Sculptor, with a string of kinda unkind sentences that are, sure, fine, you-don’t-like-it… cool. It’s apparently “plodding,” “yawning,” and “noncommittal.” But it takes a bit of a turn in the second paragraph: “Randell [The vocalist/lyricist of the band] aims to explore “the different lives that are open to us,” but it seems that “us” represents a very particular demographic of people, namely the affluent, white, and educated masochists of Alex Ross Perry and Noah Baumbach films.” Shots fired! Luluc are the enemy of progress!
The very first song of the album is a paean to Nature and the rebirth of springtime. But why isn’t this song about Donald Trump? Your privilege is showing, Luluc!
Public Enemy Number 1!
Before we get into why this reaction happened, here’s a modest proposal for the P4K staff: everybody should get together in one room and decide on a set of rules for all musicians, so it can be determined who is problematic and who is just doing that ole artist thing. Like, Dave Longstreth’s Dirty Projectors are allowed to skate by with a line like “She keeps it 100 in the shade” along with his hip-ten-years-ago auto-tuning, and no one says “Hey, bro, stay in your lane”? Longstreth trying on the sounds of hip-hop is about as lame as lil Donnie Trump, Jr. announcing to the world that his daddy’s opportunity to replace another Supreme Court Justice is “lit.”
Sup, my fellow thugz! Stuff my cups with the lean please! … Lean means diet, right?”
And Swedish pop star Lykke Li puts out a trap-influenced album, and not a soul steps up to say, “This is a clear cash grab, like Lykke just listened to the top streamed tracks and decided to steal the sounds of Atlanta’s gritty rap scene for a doomed shot at the top of the charts.”
So, before we toss harsh judgments at bands that are simply doing their own thing with no pretensions to Modern American Importance and/or flotillas of thought pieces, let’s consider what our basics are. Personally, I’m not really into keeping the hands of artists out of whatever musical cookie jar they want to get into, but to a sensitive modern soul, some things are clearly more egregious than others.
Back to the Luluc at hand: What’s transpired here in Madison Bloom’s review is not so much a critique of an album as it is an argument between a reviewer and the writings of a publicist who’s trying WAY too hard to sell this album as Important. Luluc’s label, Sub Pop, wants coverage and therefore $ALES, so they’ve spun quite a yarn, as can be seen in full on Luluc’s Sub Pop-branded Bandcamp page. It seems that Master Bloom’s reaction is less to the quiet and unobtrusive Sculptor than to a pitch that includes truly un-humble brags like “There’s a before you hear Luluc’s music, and an after—a turning point that affects people with rare force.”
The problem lies in this particular PR-sanctioned line from Sub Pop: “That everyone has control of their own story is at the core of Sculptor.” This feeds directly into Bloom’s first line, which paraphrases: “You are the master of your own destiny. This is the thread loosely stitching together Luluc’s latest indie-folk album, Sculptor.” And that concept, which didn’t necessarily come directly from the band and certainly doesn’t imply that there aren’t obstacles to self-realization, can be a triggering one to the socially conscious. Thus the reference to affluent whites.
The first impression that Bloom must have gotten is one that this album is a Message Album, and that message is that ‘You can do whatever you want to do!’, so she thinks to herself, hypothetically, ‘But that’s not true for subjugated minorities or the poor or so many real world people!” Then this review happened.
For the majority of the piece, Bloom goes after the “characters” within the songs, which, when listened to with an open mind, are not necessarily characters at all, but rather lyrical offshoots of the lyricist’s own experience. Bloom writes, “It’s hard to discern Randell’s intentions in these songs, especially when it comes to the people that populate them.” And she’s absolutely right! These songs can often be heard in whatever way you’d like to hear them. Bloom has chosen to hear them as sarcastic screeds because of this PR-blurb-related bias. She criticizes the narrator of “Genius” for being hypocritical. The people depicted in “Cambridge” are “bursting with existential complaints but they’re shy on the subtleties of actual human beings.” And “Me & Jasper” gets panned as “applauding her [Zoe Randell’s] own rebellious nature and propensity to ponder”, while my own ears hear the song as more desperate than self-congratulatory. It turns out that it’s easy to taint the rather spare canvas that Luluc presents.
Bloom wasn’t alone in catching a whiff of something a bit down-the-nose and upper-crusty in the album. Michael Hann wrote for The Guardian: “There’s always the risk that proclaiming one’s difference from all the narrow-minded plebs will come over as whiny and entitled. It’s a trap Luluc escape through their music, not defiant or raging, but hushed and wistful.” And that’s where Bloom’s review is most lacking. This obsession with the lyrics melts away the delicate beauty of the music itself; in fact, the music is hardly mentioned other than in a paragraph that decries how much worse it is musically when compared to their previous album, Passerby (which received a 4.9 to Sculptor‘s 4.8… Guess Randell’s voice wasn’t THAT much more dynamic back then…).
The argument that most of Bloom’s review is making is best summed up by Sophia Ordaz for Slant Magazine: “But in the end, she and Hassett suggest sketch artists more than they do sculptors: They fail to impart their work with full-bodied substance, only getting at the contours of what they’re capable of musically.” That’s a fine critique, for anyone who needs concrete details in their music rather than emotional sketches.
But it seems that all of these issues begin with the artist’s intent. For those of us who just want a lush and breezy melancholy bit of an album, there’s plenty to love about Luluc. While I listened to it again and again in an attempt to scratch the itch left by Madison Bloom’s poisonous pen, I came to be aligned most with the summation written in The Line of Best Fit by Ray Honeybourne: “Ultimately, the album repays careful and repeated attention, its varied qualities cohering effectively with a measured sense of control that, simultaneously, offers positive indications of the considerable potential for future even more diverse arrangements.” Let’s hope some music-searchers found that piece of advice first.
(As a final aside, millions of imaginary readers might be asking, “Why do you guys go after Pitchfork so often?! It’s mean.” Go ahead and Google ‘Luluc Sculptor review’ and you’ll see that Pitchfork comes up first. They come up first for most review searches. For a lot of casual listeners, that 4.8 score will be the only thing they need to know about a low profile band before breezing past them. So, with great power comes great criticism of its abuses. My apologies to the Forkies out there.)
Sub Pop’s Marketing Blurb: 20/100
P4K’s Review: 22/100