Human Voicing by The Luyas

Reviewed by Rolf Anderson
Rating: 5.5/10

I didn’t know what I was expecting. Despite The Luyas’ having found a start in Montreal over 10 years ago, I had never heard of the quartet. I guess that shows how far I am from indie pop. At least, that’s what I thought when heading into this. After hearing a sample from it, I found I really liked the noisy parts, so I decided to flesh out the record. I think background is appropriate here, The Luyas are a quartet on Paper Bag records, from Montreal as stated above. This is their fourth LP and their first since 2012. Aside from that, they have a couple of EP’s and a split single with Mr. Twin Sister (!), so they must be making waves in the scene. Described as “indie pop”, I couldn’t have had a vaguer understanding of what their music sounds like. Seriously, “indie pop” can describe bands from the Flaming Lips and Yo La Tengo to artists such as Bjork or Grimes. I guess genres are a discussion for another day.
I jump in.

The first thing that really pops out to me (besides how eclectic this is) is the weird, remarkably interesting intros that almost distract the listener before the rhythm section kicks in for some cool jams. Jessie Stein’s vocals are rather quirky, but sound excellent. She seems to keep the rest of the band rooted into tight performances and a killer rhythm section. The instruments seem to be as varied as the sound, with even a Wurlitzer making an appearance. This all combines to form a product that breaks the locks on the fence keeping most ‘indie’ bands confined to a certain sound, combined that with a certain French flair (they’re from Quebec after all) and you have something that I would prefer any day to the watered down attempts of other acts.

Wait, this sounds very familiar, krautrock/Velvet Underground-esque jams, poppy yet futuristic melodies, and a sense of style only the French could have? It’s Stereolab! But then why do I not love the Luyas as much as I do the space age post-rockers from Bordeaux?
Above I stated how Human Voicing breaks free from indie pop’s traditional stereotypes? That’s true yes, but when the dust settles, it doesn’t land far at all from what we’ve come to expect from pop acts that aim for the college art school dropout scene. I’m almost lamenting Stein’s vocals now, because I get this uneasy feeling of what these musicians could have accomplished had they pushed the limits of what they could do, rather than rely on heavenly vocals as well as spacey and atmospheric synth lines. Although to be honest, about half of those synth lines seem disjointed and out of place. However, there are times on this album where the band nails it, whether they really know they are or not. A perfect example would be the final track on the album. The drums are straight jazzy/post-rock and pair very well with some wailing, dense synth drones and open up for the most interesting riffing that Stein shows on her guitar. It fades once the ideas are gone, and thankfully does not fall into the trap of pushing the envelope once even though the band shouldn’t go any further (looking at you post 2000 Tortoise).

I guess that criticism could be seen as pretentious, Human Voicing brings some very interesting ideas to the table, and the musicianship is there. I haven’t touched on the production, although nothing stood out to me on that end, either good or bad (take that as you will), it feels as though it was produced like an Arcade Fire album, I can’t fault them for this and it works out well with the music they are creating. That being said, the interesting ideas are not developed enough, especially those killer intros, and too often The Luyas fall back on generic 21st century pop formulas rather than venturing into true innovation. By no means is this a bad album, but it misses opportunities that could have easily landed it amongst my favorites for the year.
Close but no American Spirits – 5.5/10

FCC: None
Recommended if you like: Stereolab, probably some other Montreal artists I don’t know about
Favorite Tracks: 1, 2, 8

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