The Luyas

[This week’s Sunday Supplement is published with both gratitude and a grovelling apology to our stalwart American correspondent, Campfires & Battlefields. He actually sent this through on an email two weeks ago, and I couldn’t immediately get online to publish it, so I forwarded it to Matthew through my iPhone, but the iPhone went and stripped out all the attachments from the email before delivering it to Matthew’s inbox. Last week I was stuck in a traffic jam on the M6 outside Manchester when I remembered it was Sunday. So basically we’re a bit rubbish. C&B, however, is not.]

The Luyas are good, but a little hard to describe.

They don’t really remind me of anything else, but if I had to pick a point of reference I guess it would be Animal Magic Tricks, not so much in terms of the sound but in terms of the overall “feel” of the music. It can be challenging at times, but all the more rewarding for that. Owen Pallett is also in the same ballpark, and apparently the Luyas are associated with him in some vague way.

Like Pallett, the Luyas are stunning instrumentalists and expert knob-twiddlers from Montréal. Their music is inventive, dreamy and atmospheric, but also angular and brittle, like icicles. I imagine them rehearsing and performing by candlelight.

The Luyas are fronted by Jessie Stein, who sings (or perhaps “vocalises” is a better word) and plays a peculiar instrument called a Moodswinger, which its Dutch inventor describes as “an electric 12-string 3rd bridge overtone zither,” whatever the hell that means. She’s playing it in the video embedded above, so if you’re interested in cool gear you should check it out. It looks vaguely guitar-ish but sounds more like a piano or a harp.

To be honest, Jessie Stein has a pretty limited vocal range. She’s no Benatar. But her hushed singing has a crackly fragility that suits this music very well once you get used to it. The other Luyas are Pietro Amato on French Horn, Stefan Schneider on percussion, Mathieu Charbonneau on Wurlitzer organ and otherkeys, and sometimes Sarah Neufeld (from the Arcade Fire) on violin.

Unfortunately I don’t really have a proper Luyas record to review here. They released a full-length album back in 2007 called Faker Death, but in my opinion it doesn’t hold a candle to the music they make today, which is much more ambitious. They have an excellent 7” single out,and according to their MySpace a new album is scheduled for release in the autumn, which is good news indeed.

The video is from last March, and it shows them performing my favorite of their songs, called Canary. I really like what I’m hearing. Keep your ears open for this lot.

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