Lung-All the King's Horses
There are a handful of bands that swap guitars for cellos in a heavy rock or metal context, and every other one that does spends at least a little time making a joke of it. This is not to say they are bad bands, but they are all a little ironic about the cello.
Lung is nothing like those bands: Lung is all in on the cello. That the cello is not an instrument typically heard in heavy music seems utterly irrelevant to the duo; they play what suits them, and what suits them is cello-based, and loud. Moreover, their music doesn’t much sound like anything else.
Lung is Cincinnati musicians Kate Wakefield (vocals and cello) and Daisy Caplan (drums). Together, they released Lung’s debut full-length Bottom of the Barrel only last year. The newly released follow-up, All the King’s Horses, arrived so quickly that it was a bit of a surprise to me, though a welcome one. If you were a fan of the excellence of Bottom of the Barrel, know that the new album is not a drastic departure for the band. It is however, marked by a darker tone.
All the King’s Horses opens with "The Overgrowth," a song propelled by aggression courtesy of Caplan’s drums. On this track, the cello creates a doomy briar patch of growling, thorny sound. Wakefield’s strings dominate Lung’s musical sound, but the band’s lineup as a duo still allows plenty of musical space for the drums to ratchet up the tension.
Wakefield’s vocals are nearly as essential to the band’s sound as her cello. In a different context, she might sound sweet or even sunny. Indeed, there is a quality in her timbre and cadence that seems evocative of cabaret. In Lung, Wakefield’s voice is like a yin and yang, alternating back and forth between struggling with the growling creak of her cello and being supported by it.
The qualities of Wakefield’s vocals stand out on the track "Butcher." The song seems like the sort of thing you might expect from Amanda Palmer if she’d grown up listening to the Melvins. The lyrics offer an off-kilter depiction of childhood horrors and the confusion of a world filled with adults beyond understanding.
Like many of the album’s songs, "Spiders" seems ready for a moshpit to break out in the chorus. Here, Lung taps into a seething, dangerous energy.
"Gun," on the other hand, sounds as though it may actually feature an acoustic cello for a change. Wakefield plays pizzicato in the quiet moments preceding full doses of ‘90s fuzz. In this, “Gun” is a perfect example of the band’s versatility. Hearing a duo like Lung play with the classic Pixies formula of loud-quiet-loud is a fascinating demonstration of the band’s flexibility. Wakefield can instantly summon a legion of rock demons where there had moments before been only relatively peaceful plucks and bowing. In this, Lung can go from a chamber music parlor to a dark club at 2 a.m. in the blink of an eye.
Of course, it’s impossible to talk about All the King’s Horses without discussing its excellent cover of David Bowie’s “I’m Afraid of Americans.” This is more or less a straightforward cover that leaves the basic structure of the song intact, choosing to instead sell itself with the quality and intensity of the performance.
Lyrically, Wakefield slyly changes Bowie’s “Johnny” to “Donald.” The small change succeeds in amplifying the politics of a pretty political song. Lung’s version ends up being a crunchy affair, one with a sense of menace creeping into the verses before being unleashed like a hailstorm of half-giddy, half-panicked dread in the chorus.
The album wraps up with "Placeholder," a track reminiscent of some of the quieter moments of Chelsea Wolfe. Wakefield spins a lazy vocalise for the first minute of the track before Caplan’s drums finally snap to attention without ever really breaking a sweat. "Placeholder” provides a contrast to the rest of the album, coming off more emotional and vulnerable than Wakefield normally allows herself to be.
All the King’s Horses is a fine record and an unusually strong sophomore effort. Indeed, Wakefield and Caplan have not only matched the energy and verve of their debut, they have bettered it as well. Lung is one of the most exciting bands in music today, playing festivals and concert dates all over the place. If you like music with as much heart as volume, don’t miss a chance to see this band live. If you love heavy music but are ready for a change of pace, pick up the new album. Either way, check out Lung’s All the King’s Horses if you want to hear one of 2018’s best.