Lost Under Heaven, or LUH, the band of former WU LYF singer Ellery James Roberts and his partner Ebony Hoorn, is not one for metered expectations or weary resignation. Their debut record, Spiritual Songs for Lovers To Sing, contains an hour of immense meditations on the nature of love, life, and self-determination, dramatic anthems for dissatisfied youth hoping to dismantle capitalism and take on the world. The howl that made Roberts’ former band so memorable is matched here with a similar sense of grandeur by ornate production and intricate instrumentation, adding cellos, violins, trumpets, and other brass to accentuate these massive songs. The self-proclaimed lovers left on a sinking ship in a world that has lost all meaning. LUH leave no room for passivity.
The pair are obsessed with heroic myths, citing Joseph Campbell’s Hero With A Thousand Faces as an influence. To that end, they have truly woven a fascinating myth. Roberts left his previous band because his fascination with experimental artists like the KLF clashed with the band’s indie rock aspirations. He met Hoorn at that point, then left with her to her home in Amsterdam where the two began working on recording the songs Roberts had been writing for the past couple of years. Finally, they enlisted Bobby Krlic, aka The Haxan Cloak, to produce the record as the group worked together on the isolated British island of Osea.
Working with Krlic drastically helped the duo achieve their lofty goals for the album’s vision. Krlic’s best known for dramatically haunting music that plumbs the darkness, whether it’s his own records or his production work on Bjork’s “Family” from last year’s Vulnicura. Here, he pushes those dramatic stakes in the opposite direction, as he works with LUH to add swelling orchestration and thunderous percussion to reach a state of euphoria.
Comparing “Kerou’s Lament”, the first song Roberts released under his own name in 2013 with “Lament”, the version that made the album three years later, the handful of differences add a new dimension. The original contains all the elements that make it impactful, with lush synths, a driving beat, and the escalating cathartic refrain. Rerecorded with additional production, the song takes on new life, with Hoorn’s backing vocals, a sharper clarity, and crisper, cacophonous percussion. The track is still marked by excess, but with a keener sense of precisely where and how to utilize it. It may sacrifice the looser, messy feel of the original, but in its place is grand production that matches the pair’s aim throughout the record.
Whereas WU LYF contained concentrated doses of Robert’s knack for grandeur, LUH finds it blown out and sprawled across the horizon. He and Hoorn walk a tightrope between rousing inspirational anthems and an overwrought mess. Although they push it at times, as on previously released single “Lost Under Heaven” which nearly derails the momentum with a sharp pivot to Silversun Pickups style alt rock, they thankfully land on the right side of that equation on nearly all 12 songs. Dynamically, it isn’t all peaks, as tracks like the pensive “Future Blues” or the wistful “Here Our Moment Ends” offer welcome respites from the big moments.
Thematically, the album hits similar points throughout, but does so in a complex way that doesn’t get tiresome. Tunes “$ORO” could practically be Occupy anthems, with Roberts exclaiming about how the game is rigged, the world structured for a privileged few, shouting “go work sleep repeat until you are fucking dead,” before the track breaks down into a nightmarish, broken collapse. Despite that, it’s not cynicism that informs the record, but hope to break free, dismantle the system, and build a better life outside of it. On mission statement “Lament”, Roberts gives a succinct explanation: “To the powers of old, to the powers that be, you fucked with this world but you won’t fuck with me.” Hoorn and Roberts craft the kind of dramatic treatises that can only be pulled off with complete and utter earnest. The songs could easily crumble under their own weight, but don’t due to the duo’s sharp conviction in the anthems they put forth.
LUH’s debut is certainly over-the-top, and purposefully so. Hoorn and Roberts strive for catharsis repeatedly and find it. They avoid the placid, disillusioned platitudes that can befall music like this, earning the catharsis they strive for. Their commitment and belief to what they’re saying sells it, and by building a world of sound that rises to meet their longing, they achieve that grand scale.
Essential Tracks: “Lament”, “Lust Under Heaven”