19 February 2016; 4AD
The introductory notes of “Future You” locate LNZNDRF (pronounced “Lanzendorf”) – the second side-project of members of The National in the last six months – among pulsating Sahara. Orientalism, Arabian Nights… thoughtless synecdoches are kept under wraps and torn apart. The strong riff that follows launches the album as the co-conspirator of The National’s own “Abel” and EL VY’s “Happiness, Missouri”.
EL VY, of course, the side-project of The National’s frontman Matt Berninger and long-time friend Brent Knopf of Ramona Falls and Menomena. The National’s rhythm and lead guitarists, the Dessner twins, are off writing ballets, film scores and concertos. The whole collective are set to announce The Day of the Dead – a super-group of collaborators paying tribute to the music of The Grateful Dead.
These side projects are to release the songs they have as individuals that don’t fit the band’s ethos. The experimental side of LNZNDRF is, though, incongruously the same experimentalism that critics love to say The National lacks. So here is their coherency. These deviating side-projects demonstrate the musical candour and intellect of The National, while allowing the Cincinnati high-flyers to continue filling their sound which devoted fans will never hear enough of.
It’s hardly a surprise that the second lot of twins in The National are playing their cards at something else. So, bassist and drummer, Scott and Bryan Devendorf introduce LNZNDRF to you – their project alongside Beirut’s Benjamin Lanz, master of the trombone, sousaphone and glockenspiel.
The work is entirely improvised, recorded over a period of two days in a Cincinnati church, harking to a spirit – the band say – of why they became musicians in the first place
The record’s strongest facet and occasional short straw is its flagrant organic philosophy. There’s an indisputable textured delicacy which succeeds as a subset of rock minimalism, portrayed in the most sonically maximised sense, yet it leaves an occasional feeling of being short changed. The work is entirely improvised, recorded over a period of two days in a Cincinnati church, harking to a spirit – the band say – of why they became musicians in the first place.
The introductory songs are all edited from 30+ minute jams. “Beneath The Black Sea” enters vocals into the instrumental array, “Mt Storm” perfects them: what sounds like a male take on FKA Twigs, flitting between the Besnard Lakes and the reverent squalor of triumphant glam rock. A moment of weak production at the track’s closing instrumental feels like an unnecessary addition to continue the trend of six minute plus songs, willingly given up by “Kind Things”.
Instrumentation is certainly the focus of LNZNDRF; perhaps a sign of vented frustration at The National’s lyrical plaudits, where Berninger’s lyrics and baritone become synonymous with the band’s success. To the dedicated listener, there is still an often ignored intellect behind The National’s instrumentation; if you don’t believe me, hunt out a set of unreleased demo tapes known fondly as “The Tarquin Roughs”, which isolates various riffs, basslines and grooves behind the jewel of The National’s crown, Boxer.
Lanz’s main influence can be heard on experimental interludes “Stars and Time” and “Hypno-Skate”. As Beirut struggle to retain the audience that heralded them as Zappa’s contemporaries with The Flying Club Cup, sure that Condon’s faith in the accordion was one mere step away from a “folk” re-revolution, LNZNDRF take the fashionable psychedelic, and introvert it with savant assurance.
The record finds a comfortable close with “Samarra”, one of the record’s more tentative tracks. Discordant feedback comes through a buoyant riff and it feels uncomfortable. It also introduces backlogs of electronic sound that have been desperate to make an appearance – Kraftwerk, Tangerine Dream – all the while pushed to one side by the natural jubilation that permeates each song.
The album artwork is a green moon coming into view – black clouds subsiding against a blood red sky. Not a reason in itself to listen to LNZNDRF, but an image that feels strangely déjà vu once you have. It’s not outstanding, but at all times a very welcome addition to both The National’s and Beirut’s musical progeny.