Lost practices, hidden worlds, secret topics – Landshapes shift around the dark, magical borders of alternative culture, soaking up poetry and peccadillos, high art and low desires.
On their second album Heyoon, released on Bella Union on May 4th, Landshapes explore everything from a 17th Century tale about migratory space geese; tragic Dutch artist Bas Jan Ader who died on a failed Atlantic crossing, the desire to inhabit another’s psyche and nights out at drag bars. With Landshapes, anything could happen.
Previously Lulu And The Lampshades, 2012 saw them accrue a wealth of guitar pedals, a fascination for mind-expanding noise and, following a mis-billing in Paris, a new name: Landshapes.
2013 debut Landshapes album Rambutan was a voyage of discovery as they hunted out this elusive new soundscape. Electronics clashed with traditional shanties, eastern atmospherics met spaghetti western overtones, nothing was out-of-bounds.
Described by one reviewer as “conjuring up images of twisted Tim Burton nighttime fairgrounds where all the rides are manned by Tom Waits”, it combined art, folk, psychedelia and math-rock in a beguiling morass of ominous strings, oddball found-sounds and insidious melody.
The band were still mapping Landshapes though. Over the next year of intense rehearsals and live outings – including CMJ, Green Man and End Of The Road, they honed the self-professed “unleashed and loud” sound into a focused tornado.
They worked with an open palate and freeform approach. “Making patterns, moods, and noises, enjoying conflicts of sound that can be explored and then resolved.” Key to this development was a fortnight spent in a cottage in the woods of Cornwall in September 2014
“Something about all that fresh air, sea, and woods and fire manifested in something much darker and much more menacing than anything we’d written so far,” Luisa explains. “That’s when it felt like we’d started the album.”
After road testing the new material and earning all-female mosh-pits in the process, the band hit Soup Studios in Limehouse with producers Giles Barrett and David Holmes. Here two more songs came together including lead single Moongee, a masterpiece of hallucinatory sludge rock inspired by interplanetary wildfowl, a tale by 17th century Bishop Francis Godwin recently re-imagined by artist Agnes Meyer Brandis.
The resulting album Heyoon is astounding, both sonically and thematically. If you want to take the highbrow road through this dense maelstrom of psychedelic math-fuzz beauty, then focus on the lustrous, unsettling lounge drone of Fire. A reflection of a Lydia Davis story called Forbidden Subjects, the track documents a post-break up friendship. “Conversations are so barbed and loaded, it’s the fire of conflict but also the memory of the fire of chemistry.”
There’s a rich seam of break-up philosophy running through Heyoon. The Lynchian torch-gaze of Red Kite concerns “still feeling deeply affected by a past relationship, but putting that neatly, and tenderly in a box so that you can move on.”
The untamed, carnival-whirling pop of Ader recalls tragic visual artist Bas Jan Ader, whose work still remains unexplained following his death in a little sailboat, alone on the Atlantic. “People have speculated over what he’s sad about,” adds Luisa. “That it could be the absolute loneliness of all humans and that you can never completely know another person.”
Wallow in the bass-fuelled end of Heyoon and you’ll embrace the stampeding thunk-punk of opener Stay, a booty-call set to music that shape-shifts into a post-orgasmic bliss dream in its second half. Then there’s the sultry Gallic trembles of Francois, a courage song exploring gender with luring verses coaxing someone to go out, go to a party and be themselves.
Brooding, beautiful, haunted and occasionally barbarous, Heyoon is a record about secret, hidden things, right down to it’s title, a mispronunciation of a secret pavilion hidden in the woods of south-east Michigan, near Ann Arbor.
“These two guys built this weird structure, kind of a pavilion, on one of their properties, hidden in a clearing in the woods. The story goes that teenagers stumbled across it and it became a place people would escape to. Young teens looking for somewhere to hang out, somewhere just to smoke and drink and do all that stuff, a temple of firsts. You can only find it if somebody takes you there who already knows it. It’s a beautiful story, although we’re probably doing something blasphemous, because it’s a secret, calling our album that.”
Landshapes: climb inside and explore.
Dan Blackett (drums, vocals), Luisa Gerstein (ukelele, vocals), Heloise Tunstall-Behrens (bass, vocals), Jemma Freeman (guitar, vocals)