There’s nothing like the death of a close friend to shake you, as Montreal-based experimental pop quartet The Luyas experienced firsthand right before beginning the recording of their third LP, Animator. The resulting sonic therapy is dark, moody and thoughtful, mixing delicate, hollow female vocals with pretty violin arrangements (contributed by Arcade Fire’s Sarah Neufeld), traditional indie-rock beats and an electric zither-type instrument called a Moodswinger.
Jessie Stein’s slightly flat, quite quiet and very sad-sounding voice floats in, out and around the album, offering insight to the pain no doubt felt by the entire band. The 9-minute opening track, Montuno, starts as a collection of sounds that contradicts itself at first, hopping from one pattern to the seemingly-unrelated next, slowly building to form not only a song but the rest of the album, sounds that turn to melodies and set the tone for what’s to come. Three minutes in, the percussion is mixed in with Stein’s vocals, sounding tiny and lost compared to the rather “big” sound of the instruments. Following is the misleadingly upbeat single Fifty Fifty, with twee-quality vocals (the chorus being Stein’s repeating proclamation that “dreams die”) and danceable beat.
The Luyas did deviate from their formula on a few tracks. Earth Turner is a bit of a risk, beginning with tribal drums, building to lasers and fading out in discordant organ sounds. Crimes Machine, too, sticks out as a bit of an oddball, a minute and a half of soundclips played backwards that, while rightfully eerie, would probably have best been left off the album entirely. The most effective of the variant tracks is probably the folksy Talking Mountains, the closest to a simple, dainty acoustic song (and certainly the most stripped down).
Finally, Animator closes with Channeling, perhaps the most somber of the album’s tracks. The song is simple, with Stein as the focus and instrumentation almost goes unnoticed. The lyrics seem to deal directly with their lost friend, somewhat of a farewell, and it ties up the album rather nicely – it doesn’t draw too much attention to itself, it doesn’t build into some great climactic ending. Channeling delivers a simple adieu and fades cleanly away.