Le Loup – The Throne Of The Third Heaven Of The Nations’ Millennium General Assembly (Hardly Art)
review by Alex Ruder
Discussing the debut record from DC-based collective Le Loup is not a simple affair. First off, itâ€™s a remarkably strong album that proves both complex and catchy, boasting an ambitious conceptual narrative, apocalyptic imagery, swelling melodies, and an eccentric compositional approach. Yet itâ€™s an even more intriguing story. So letâ€™s start from the beginning.
Le Loup (French for â€œThe Wolfâ€) began as the solo project of singer/songwriter/banjo plucker Sam Simkoff. The initial song structures emerged during the latter half of 2006, a time period when Simkoff was desperately struggling to make sense of our complicated fast-paced world. His inner turmoil demanded a creative outlet, resulting in bedroom laptop recording sessions with little more than his trusty banjo, basic software programs, and a cheap microphone. These skeletal tracks soon made their way onto MySpace and garnered enough positive response for Simkoff to take his project to the next level: Craigslist. Six musicians promptly answered his online request, birthing a promising full-fledged band formed solely through online communities.
The group’s communal spirit and knack for successful marketing permeated the city’s art sector, leading to studio time at discounted costs, photo shoots done for free by young artists, and promotions and online content handled by generous friends with time to spare. Relying on the kindness of friends and strangers alike, Le Loup emerged with The Throne of the Third Heaven of the Nationâ€™s Millenium General Assembly, a title taken from a piece of art created by DC resident/janitor/reclusive artist James Hampton (a whole story unto itself). Word of mouth began to trickle outside of the DC area, eventually making its way across the country and into the ears of The Helio Sequence, who recommended the group check out Hardly Art, the brand new offshoot to local indie giants Sub Pop Records. To finish our introductory storyâ€”a modern-day tale that could only happen in our contemporary online ageâ€”Hardly Art will make Le Loupâ€™s debut their second release on September 11th.
Background story aside, the record itself is truly an impressive listening experience. The opening four tracks are each vastly different, establishing the bandâ€™s off-kilter sonic blueprint and inspired chameleon sound. â€œCanto Iâ€ kicks off the album with a literary nod to Danteâ€™s Inferno and a spoken-word sample hidden within a subtle banjo-led composition, a combination that bears striking similarities to The Books. â€œPlanes Like Vulturesâ€ remains a cappella for over a minute before delicate drums and a lonely piano sneak up and provide support for the songâ€™s lyrical mantra â€œOh this world was made for ending.â€ While the content is undeniably dark, Simkoffâ€™s multitracked vocals and overlapping melodies turn the songâ€™s eerie lyrics into a cathartic celebration, building to a powerful apex fit for Rogue Wave. A programmed drum beat introduces potential lead single â€œOutside of this Car, The End of the World!â€ and exposes Le Loupâ€™s sporadic electro-pop leanings (see also â€œWe Are Gods! We Are Wolves!â€). Itâ€™s a quirky amalgam, both organic and metallic, yet they execute these dichotomous sounds handsomely for exciting results. Rounding out the opening foursome is â€œTo The Stars! To The Night!â€ a gentle straight-forward folk track reminiscent of Sufjan Stevens and Akron/Family.
The record moves along swiftly for its remainder, rising and falling alongside its overarching narrative. Between brief relevant interludes and excursions that keep the pacing fresh and balanced, the group sneaks in a mesmerizing highlight in the final third with â€œLe Loup (Fear Not),â€ a track that sounds remarkably like a knockout Animal Collective song.
While their sound may bring to mind other notable indie artists, Le Loupâ€™s labor of love defies easy categorization with its consistently morphing sound spectrum, offering an undeniably exciting listen start-to-finish. And in the end, thatâ€™s a simple thing to comprehend.