This year marks Luluc’s 15th anniversary, and in that time singer Zoe Randell and multi-instrumentalist Steve Hassett have produced five LPs worth of precisely crafted, sublimely streamlined songs. The newest, Diamonds, came out over the summer on Community Music. Both instrumentally minimal and dense with ideas, Luluc’s work over the years blends country rock, 1970s folk and whatever genre it is that sounds particularly nice in wide open spaces — or very close quarters.
Randell’s immediately identifiable voice — “crystalline and unflappable, with a strange beauty that verges on creepy,” as The New Yorker accurately called it — is Luluc’s most identifiable trait. It tints their work with a kind of velveteen lushness, one that Hassett uses as a foundation for his instrumental melodies and arrangements.
As part of the extended In Sheep’s Clothing family, Luluc’s work is particularly dear to our hearts, and has scored countless deep, focused alone-time listening sessions. Below, five portals into Luluc’s magical realm.
‘The Shore’ (2023)
Guided by their uniquely identifiable palette of sounds, which at various points features cello, subtle brass orchestrations, moaning electric guitar runs, acoustic guitar strums, and a dollop of reverb, Diamonds centerpiece “The Shore” floats on gusts of gentle, airy saxophone and Randell’s Neil Young-ish approach to phrasing. “Hey buddy won’t you take me down to the shore?,” she sings. “I’m dying out here, I’ve been worn down to my very core.” Written during lockdown and while the chaos of the Trump administration was reaching its nadir — “day after day after hour the sickness comes” — “The Shore” further blossoms with each listen.
‘Till the Morning Comes’ (2016)
One excellent way to get an essence of an artist is to hear how they cover classic songs. In 2016, Luluc teamed with another duo, George Xylouris and Jim White (Dirty Three, Cat Power, the Double) to cover the Grateful Dead’s “Till the Morning Comes” for the collection Day of the Dead. The album, produced by Aaron and Bryce Dessner, also features Dead songs by Angel Olsen, Wilco, Perfume Genius, Anohni (with yMusic), and dozens more. “Till the Morning Comes” was originally recorded for Dead’s 1970 classic American Beauty. Lulac’s take decreases the tempo, even while White’s rat-a-tat snare runs add a kind of freneticism. Hassett and laouto player Xylouris wash the midrange with strums and moaning guitar; Randell phrases lyricist Robert Hunter’s lines with grace:
Don’t think about What you left behind The way you came Or the way you go Let your tracks be lost in the dark and snow.
‘Reverie on Norfolk Street’ (2014)
As with Hunter’s deft words, when Randell writes of the natural world, which she often does, she does so with a sense of wonder at the beauty of it all. In “Reverie on Norfolk Street,” a smokey Wim Wenders-esque song from their second album, Passerby. Luluc catches in four sweet verses and a bridge a snapshot series of moments. Randell touches on urban splendor — “City valleys catch the sound and turn it up again/The sweetest little bird song somehow breaks through the din” — and rural peace, a place “down by the hidden creek around the bend,” with “willow leaves hanging down above our heads.”
“Zoe’s a huge punk music fan. I grew up sort of on more psychedelic rock. And then we love a lot of the more mellow stuff – Paul Simon and Beatles and Beach Boys,” Hassett told NPR of their early influences. Randell added that she had her Nick Drake epiphany when a friend gave her a copy of his Pink Moon album. You can still catch glimpses of Drake in their sound, though on Diamonds it’s one of countless reference points. You can hear traces of Tonight’s the Night-era Neil Young, Elliott Smith’s Figure 8, Mazzy Star’s She Hangs Brightly, Lucinda Williams’ gentler balladry and Nico’s early 1970s work with John Cale. Expertly arranged, the title track from Diamonds ponders settling down, taking a breather, reevaluating, meditating on the natural world, solitude and rebirth.
Need to land somewhere for just a while Let it all wash away We’ve got a lot of living yet to do I’ll load the bookshelves We’ll cook our meals, ponder the stars They are diamonds over the bay Watch the water swell and sway And build ourselves anew.
Emerald City (2020)
On the excellent “Emerald City,” Luluc opens with a bumpy electronic bass-kick as Randell sets the scene. She doesn’t seem happy to be back in cosmopolitan chaos. “Back in the city again/Like a fish caught on a thread/Tumble and twist all the night/Too much in my head.” The song opens their 2020 album Dreamboat. Across four frantic minutes, she sings of “a goddamn ache” in her shoulder, “August heat settled in,” lethargy and “drowning in wet heat and din.” As she does so, Hassell weaves in a brilliant Randell-sung counter melody. Dreamboat features contributions from members of the National, Bon Iver, Sō Percussion and others.