“We’re different; you can tell,” all three members of Lucy Leave sing on ‘Thumbs’, one of the tracks from the lead single of their second album, Everyone is Doing so Well. The Oxford trio repeatedly interweave the song’s only lyric with one another until it becomes almost hypnotic in a way Laurie Anderson would admire. It’s also a great mission statement for a band whose kaleidoscopic new album constantly rejects traditional song structures, and who are always taking their sound and pushing it as hard as they can to see what it can do.
For the uninitiated, Lucy Leave are a tough band to pin down. Describing their sound as jazz-psych art-punk might do half a job of getting you into the right ballpark, but by the time you get there, you might find that they’ve invented a new, more fun game to play. Following their fantastic self-released 2018 album Look//Listen, Everyone is Doing so Well is the debut record on the new label from the legendary DIY promoter Divine Schism.
According to the band, the album is all about trying to look after your mental health and struggling to communicate, while saving the planet and fighting fascism at the same time. Lyrically Lucy Leave tackle these subjects in a variety of ways. Sometimes there’s a mix of allusiveness and mysteriousness, as on the aforementioned, unforgettable ‘Thumbs’, and the wonderful ‘King Charles I Returns’ – the album’s quietest, loveliest track. It’s a gorgeous little folk song that links the long-dead king of England to Courtney Barnett.
At other times, they wield bluntness like a weapon, as they do on ‘Dream’, with lyrics like, “If you can’t see gender, then you can’t see sexism, it’s kind of simple. And if you can’t see sexism, you better fucking open your eyes.” That track closes with the band suddenly ratcheting up the tempo with an unstoppable bassline driving them to the end of the track, while Mike Smith speak-sings over it that “The prize isn’t diversity itself, although of course, that is beautiful, wholesome and true. The prize is better art.”
The benefits of diversity and the dangers of misunderstanding or ignoring privilege are topics Lucy Leave return to again and again. ‘Hey, Male Saviour!’ takes on the topic of male privilege and the importance of being self-aware. Mike sings, “Don’t you know? You can’t do all that heavy lifting on your own, why don’t you let me, a man, help you?” But it’s the size of the chorus that helps this song soar; it’s a wonderful moment of release, even as Mike turns the screw on the male saviour of the song’s title.
And while ‘Hey, Male Saviour!’ unquestionably stands out, it’s not my favourite track on the record. That goes to ‘Gymnastics Club’, a light, little track that breezes by in a minute and a half and just can’t help but leave you charmed as it does so. It’s got one of those melodies that moves in at the back of your head, settles itself down, and pops up occasionally – perhaps as a hum while you’re doing the washing up, wondering what that song is again.
There’s a slightly roomy quality about the production that could put people off, and the music has a looseness about it that can make it feel as though you’re sat in the room at one of their practices. But the looseness of the sound belies the complexity of the arrangements and the quality of instrumentation at play here.
Drummer Pete Smith might sing, “I think the drums are boring” on album opener ‘Talking Heads’, but that’s an accusation no one could throw at him – his nervous shuffle injects tense electricity into every song. Jennifer Oliver’s churning bass is the propulsive heart of the arrangements, and Mike Smith’s guitar work is relentlessly alive with energy and ambition.
Everyone is Doing so Well is a record that rewards repeated listens – densely packed and bursting with ideas. And while you can hear influences as disparate as Fugazi, Fleetwood Mac, The Fall, Minutemen, and Joni Mitchell across this record, they’re never indebted to those influences – using them instead as a springboard to aim for something truly new. This album genuinely doesn’t sound like anything else, and that’s a rare thing to find indeed. They are different, and you can tell.