David Lynch’s 1986 film Blue Velvet famously opens with an image of sublime beauty juxtaposed with hellish ugliness. A shot of a white picket fence with red roses segues into a kingdom of hideous, writhing insects. Black and gold shapes burrow and writhe through moist dirt. Lynch films the insects as abstract shapes struggling for dominance. Lynch wants his audience to know that under this surface beauty lies unknown horrors. The two live in symbiosis and neither can thrive without its opposite. Because it’s David Lynch though, this uncomfortable scene also holds beauty in it. A frightening beauty the viewer cannot ignore. The Gleaners, the latest album from Australian sludge mongers LO!, thrives in similar imagery.
Calling the nine songs on this album unpleasant is a compliment. They live in violent ugliness. The music here is brutal. It sounds like writhing insects fighting each other for supremacy in the most repulsive ways. The lyrics center on rot, parasites, and rats. Unlike David Lynch, LO! do not offer any respite of beauty from their parade of bleak images and ideas. Nothing on this album is pleasant or inviting but that repulsive beauty makes it such an engaging listen.
On the title track, the band sample Werner Herzog’s dialogue from the documentary Burden of Dreams about the absence of harmony in the universe. The idea of an absence of harmony also applies to the music on The Gleaners. Album opener “Our Fouling Larder” simmers for half a minute before the song churns with an intensity sustained throughout the album. The rhythm section of bassist Adrian Shapiro and Drummer Adrian Griffin shifts songs from thrashing intensity to gloomy atmospherics on a dime. Carl Whitbread’s guitars cut through the shifting heaviness of the rhythm section. His playing heralds oncoming pestilence and decay of the lyrics. Vocalist Sam Dillon screams front and center on pestilence, corruption, and decay. The words and music of The Gleaners do not live but fester. The band create a phenomenal document of something rotting. It’s all horrifying and disgusting but impossible to look away.
The Gleaners could be the soundtrack to a time lapse film of something decomposing. As the album progresses, you can imagine the corpse rotting while various elements aid in the decomposition. The beauty of the album though lies in that horror. For all the corruption and pestilence throughout this album, LO! make something remarkable here. This is one of the best albums of the year so far. Like a tar pit with corpses and detritus barely emerging, this album immediately traps you as soon as you step into it.
— D. Morris
The Gleaners is available now on Pelagic Records. For more information on LO!, check out their official website, Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram pages.