In a year brimming with stellar records featuring a female singer awash in dreamy atmosphere and epic soundscapes (Exitmusic, Cat Power, Beach House, Purity Ring, and numerous others) The Luyas may get somewhat lost in the mix. While the band may share some musical DNA with those artists — the breathy vocals; the analog synths and slowly decaying echoes that envelop the songs — the Montreal quartet is proving just as inventive, crafting some of this year’s most alluring, sad music.
Just as they were hunkering down to start writing a new batch of songs, The Luyas say they received news about the death of someone close. The band cancelled those original sessions, but the music they eventually did create couldn’t help but dwell in the shadows of that loss. The Luyas’ latest album Animator is far from a bleak requiem, yet a mournful fragility remains in these songs. Even on more vibrant, energetic songs like “Your Name’s Mostly Water” and “Fifty Fifty,” melodies feel wistfully subdued as they glide over spacious, slow-building, synth-driven vamps and propulsive beats.
Recorded and produced by band member and experimental brass player Pietro Amato, and mixed by the Besnard Lakes’ Jace Lasek, Animator features delicate yet richly-composed string arrangements from Arcade Fire’s Sarah Neufeld, who has occasionally joined the band’s stirring live show.
As on 2011’s fine Too Beautiful To Work, Animator pairs vintage electronic sounds with strings, modulated French horn and other orchestral flourishes, as on “Montuno,” the record’s nine-minute opener that begins with a lengthy regal overture before settling into its steady head-bobbing groove.
Elsewhere the band employs a “Moodswinger,” a custom 12-string electric zither that adds an extra eerie tonality to the mix.
At the heart is singer Jessie Stein’s dreamy melodicism and introspective words written as if a means of glassy-eyed escape from pain. In “Face” Stein ponders faith, intimacy, identity, singing “I wonder how true to life that I should be / Looking for nothing until I can speak.” Still, the beauty of Stein’s seductive, childlike coo as it floats over the music is what ultimately allows Animator to feel cathartic and full of hope.