On 2011’s A Creature I Don’t Know, Laura Marling struggled with “The Beast,” a figure meant to represent her worst, darkest instincts. On this new project, she swaps the beast for a new kind of unknowable creature, which Marling and LUMP co-hort Mike Lindsay nicknamed the Yeti. This Yeti–now meant to represent the “animal unconscious“–is far goofier and fuzzier than the illustrations that accompanied Marling’s poetry during the Creature era. That creature symbolizes how radical a departure the project is from her usual work. The shift applies to the actual music as well: Laura Marling ditches the pristine craftsmanship of producers Ethan Johns and Blake Mills for the messier, wilder production of Lindsay, the co-founder of experimental folk group Tuung. Lindsay’s electronic influences force Marling into new melodic and lyrical territory.
Where 2015’s Short Movie saw Marling regain her footing after an existential crisis, and 2017’s Semper Femina explored her relationships with other women, platonic and otherwise, LUMP ditches reality altogether. Opener “Late to the Flight” contains several references to lucid dreaming, indicative of the subject matter here. The album itself is structured with dream logic: songs connected only with a droning, heavily processed flute and a bent towards the surreal. Only first single “Curse of the Contemporary,” a critique of L.A. vanity and groupthink, explicitly acknowledges the outside world. “Flight” works in a reference to “a crooner in crisis” (apparently Father John Misty) and the sneakily funny “don’t wear your smiley face t-shirt tonight” within the confines of the abstract.
“Late to the Flight” is also indicative of Marling’s range on this album: She hits contralto notes on “Shake Your Shelter” and enters soprano territory for multi-tracked harmonies on “Hand Hold Hero.” The instrumentation, almost entirely performed by Mike Lindsay, is more varied than any Marling record to date—“Hand Hold Hero” is an “It’s Alright Ma (I’m Only Bleeding)”-style stream-of-consciousness layered over a polyrhythmic, Massive Attack-inspired beat, while “May I Be the Light” blends synth plucks, vocoders, woodwinds, and a 5/4 time signature.
As odd as all those adjectives sound lined up together, the weirdest song is the centerpiece “Rolling Thunder.” Marling’s typical gender-bending lyricism (“I’m your mother/I’m your father/We are man/We are hunter,”) faces off against Lindsay’s extravagant, midrange-boosted, dubstep-leaning beat. “Thunder” is thrilling to hear, if exhausting upon multiple listens. Balancing out the loopiness is “Shake Your Shelter,” a sparse ballad with one of Marling’s simplest yet most evocative melodies to date.
On spoken-word closer “Lump is a Product,” Laura gives flautists and mixing engineers alike their dues. It’s a classy, sorely needed move as songwriters and engineers steadily gain recognition for their work. Ironically, the mixing on the album occasionally drowns out its frontwoman, prioritizing Lindsay’s sound design over Marling’s vocals. An overflow of ideas on a half-hour album is inevitable, though, and it hints that Marling may take the experimentation of LUMP to her own records.