It's 4 a.m., and the party is over. As you look around the once-packed room, all that's left are the ghosts of recent memories, of people dancing, reveling and falling in and out of love. Thin wisps of nostalgia hang almost tangibly in the air, and the music, once bass-heavy and pumping, lingers in your brain as oddly juxtaposed melodic splinters and haunting fragments of what used to be. It's an atmosphere of longing, emptiness and introspection, an ideal milieu for the Richmond, Va., band Labradford.
Labradford has always set its course through the minimalist ether, but on their fifth full-length release, E Luxo So, you'd be hard-pressed to find even a breeze to hold onto. But the still-water approach works, often with a placid beauty. This time around, the trio of Mark Nelson, Robert Donne and Carter Brown has completely strained out the lyrics, which, on the group's previous work, Mi Media Naranja, existed only as tweaked mumblings. Beats live only as phantasmagoric suggestions, and what is left are skeletal remains of rubbery bass, melancholic pianos and organs, plaintive strings and even a mystic hammered dulcimer. And the guitars? Labradford, believe it or not, has always been a guitar band, although those guitars are processed, looped and stretched beyond recognition. E Luxo So is filled with ghostly guitar, and on "and Jonathon Morken. Photo provided by" the best track on the album surf-rock chords, which sound as if they've been filtered though Jell-O, provide a melodic foundation of sorts.
As you can see, the track titles "Dulcimers played by Peter Neff. Strings played" and "Leta O'Steen. Design assistance by John Piper," and so on are the album's credits and clue the listener in on Labradford's process-is-everything take on music-making. Like German technophile and process-ist, Pole, Labradford often utilizes seemingly random hissing and crackling as the core around which the band constructs its eerily winsome soundscapes.
Compared with Pan-American, last year's dubby solo shot from Labradford's guitarist/vocalist, Mark Nelson, E Luxo So barely has a pulse, but then, at 4 in the morning the last thing you'd want is more party music. What would provide womblike comfort at that late hour is a cool, cleansing shower in the ephemerally tranquil sounds of Labradford.