The second album by Lunatraktors is another exercise in expecting the unexpected.
Release date: 21st June 2021
Format: CD / DL
The Bonefires EP from last October (our review) provided something to be going on with while we waited for Lunatraktors to follow up This Is Broken Folk. When people talk of ‘trad.arr.’ this was one of the more remarkable takes on folk music. Carli Jefferson and Clair Le Couteur pioneered the wonderful concept/philosophy of ‘broken folk’, taking traditional songs and music and interpreting in a way where the ‘alternative’ tag didn’t seem to do justice to their highly unique approach.
In the same way that experimental chef Heston Blumenthal would combine wildly bizarre concoctions of food, freeze them, burn them, stick them in a cupboard for a year and then eat raw, Lunatraktors do with traditional song. For Lunatraktors, we need a term that’s an alternative to ‘alternative’.
Already, two tracks, 16,000 Miles and Unquiet Grave, span the gap having appeared on Bonefires. However, The Missing Star sees the duo broadening the musical pallette from their now familar voice and rhythm yet the performance remains the same; and uninhibited and riveting
Rigs Of The Times is a rivetting reintroduction. The ominous drone incorporates Brexit, Covid-19, the NHS and Facebook, although the age-old chorus remains the same – “honesty’s all out of fashion.” Maybe surprising that they didn’t switch to “Honesty’s STILL out of fashion.” Yes. it gets quite vicious, some may say perceptive, although the Lunatraktors would say honest observation. The hypnotic pulse sets the scene perfectly.
Delving into the annals of the folk canon, Mirie It Is (Anemoai) takes the oldest known scrap of English song from the 13th century, bell and double flute, create a chilling folk noir that segues into the title track via cracks of either percussion or a recording of flaming fire. The nursery rhyme singsong is pure music hall and you’d swear Ian Anderson’s flute nips in for a quick blast. Merging into the space rock throb of Drone Code, it’s a fascinating sequence.
That use of drones comes into its own to stunning effect on The Keening. A track that somehow seems almost too straight for Lunatraktors. Due deference and respect is paid to the tradition of keening. The mournful whistle adds a Celtic flavour to the lament.
No-one is safe from being broken and pieced together into an almost unrecognisable form. The duo take Leonard Cohen and turn his Lover, Lover, Lover into a controlled hysterical rant. They also take on the master; on Dylan’s I Was Young When I Left Home, there’s a slight (ie, Grand Canyon wide) difference between this and the Marcus Mumford version. Not an acoustic guitar or affected folk twang in sight. Just the patter and pop of percussion and bursts of squeeze box-y sound.
In more ways than one, Lunatraktors have continued their portrayal of the theatre of the absurd – the inspiration to continue reinventing the traditional. Like the track says as it plays out a sprinkling of tuned percussion, a madness that soothes. The goalposts are on the move again, yet Lunatraktors also maintain the finger on the pulse nature of folk music. Charting austerity and the erosion of solidarity, they make music and observations that document our times.
Here’s Unquiet Grave: