13 Apr 2024
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Lung - Lung - Album Review: Lung Cancer

07 Jan 2024 // A review by Nicholas Clark
The legendary 90’s grunge band Lung recently returned to playing live gigs after a hiatus from 1994 until the 2010’s. In 2022 they released Bad Acid Soundtracks II which offered newer versions from their earlier records (like 3 Heads on a Plate and Cactii) but featured the impressive drumming from frontman Dave White’s son, Zak. While I was perplexed originally with the purpose of recording these old songs, it makes sense of what was to come. Just over a year later, they present this, Lung Cancer, a bombastic collection of totally fresh songs sounding similar to the sonic texture of Bad Acid but still connected to the raw, ragged tones that made them a dangerous, unpredictable but ultimately entertaining live act. Beneath the jagged edges, there are rhythms that might be inspired by genres ranging from jazz to heavy metal to drum and bass. The lyrics, although often buried below the tidy fills of Zak and the clouds of distortion, offers a wide range of subject matter and emotional inspiration. This includes biting cynicism, tongue-in-cheek humour, vulnerable moments of doubt. Even cryptosporidium and other words in Latin get a mention. It's that kind of a record - prepare to be surprised.

The band’s original bassist Phil Williscroft was too ill to contribute to this record, but his influence can be heard throughout the record. Firstly, the disease he is suffering from is the name of the record. This makes for a nearly too ‘on the nose’ type of title, but knowing Dave White personally, I feel that it creates the record title the band was always tempted to create and tickles a type of dead-pan humour many of the songs exhibit. There’s also a song, Phlegm of Phil that hints at the sickness and the impact it has had on the band. As a result of Phil’s absence, Dave utilised a Whammy Octave pedal on most of the songs, triggered from his own guitar performances, resulting in an indistinct albeit rhythmically dense sound. For their nastiest riffs, it works, but an individual bass line may have offered some structure to a few chord sequences here. The recording engineer, James Wood (bassist of Beastwars and Lung’s live engineer for years) is now joining the band as a member and plays bass on a track here when the song calls for it. Dave plays bass guitar on a ‘bass led’ song, but for the rest of the record, Dave’s ability on keyboards shines through. He plays Hammond organ, synth and Rhodes piano and these hitherto unheard instruments on a Lung record help make this collection of songs occasionally hauntingly beautiful.

For the majority of this record, the vocals are embedded between grunty guitars and a tight, jazzy sounding kit. The drum performance throughout offers pleasant, tidy fills set against the background of abrasive guitar. A good example of this is the opener, Sundayitus, which uses a jazz beat. You Show offers more deft drumming, nearly trip-hop with some ambient guitar lines. The distorted vocals warn the listener with a mantra-like repetition, and then, like a wave, a chorus breaks up the vibe with a syncopated rhythm beneath a guitar riff so strangled and drowned in layers of distortion it is impossible to determine a note. Towards the end of the song, the song either explodes or disintegrates depending on how you’ve enjoyed the journey, (the repetition here is either mesmerizing or a touch annoying). Beneath the noise, a keyboard bass attempts to separate the chords into meaning, but perhaps the point of the tune is like so many other Lung tracks; to create tension so that when moments of clarity do appear they seem so much more pretty by comparison to the textures that came before.

Maryanne is perhaps more accessible than the other tracks, but there is still a deliberately uneasy dissonance created with the guitar riff while an echoed, raspy vocal performance pleads with the aforementioned Maryanne to ‘go out tonight’ set against a descending, haunting chord sequence complete with a Hammond organ. By contrast, instrumental Neurons has the return of some fast, jazzy drumming, again juxtaposed against some grunty guitars. The song bursts into a plume of distortion again, reaching a crescendo of fuzz. Drone notes hold the song together between radical changes but the emotions that ooze from the song are anger, sadness and frustration.

Isolation features a real bass which the song is built on. The vocals are all but hidden here, but this track sounds like it could have come off Cactii. Phlegm of Phil is constructed on one hell of a nasty, sinister riff drenched in reverb. The song features the highest vocal levels of all the tunes so far, and the lyrics are (like many others) surreal until interpreted as a whole poem. I particularly like ‘where are all the Sonic Youths?’ line, but the rest of the song appears to be as angry about his friend’s sickness as you might imagine. The tempo changes but the strange riff persists, growing in urgency and slowly morphing from grunge into punk and then experimental noise while Dave intones “Fuck cancer” and “stick it in the head/balls/bone/arse/brain/skin” etc. The end of the song comes back into a jazz influenced Avant Garde, spoken word. It all makes for an impressive expression that the whole record is perhaps based on.

Space Cake is a song that harkens back to the Dunedin “jangle-pop” sound of the 80’s that some earlier Lung records hinted at between noisy passages. Bands such as Straitjacket Fits, The Clean and Able Tasmans seem to be an influence here. The Latin lyrics “Ventura, Venturous, Ventura” mean good fortune, but perhaps this is ironic. Classic Yellow Bike Records here. Producer James Wood plays bass on this track and the separate bass line makes for a clearer song.

Lazy has a delay effect that propels the riff supported with clever, well performed drumming. I love the mention of cryptosporidium. A mix of humour and cynicism appears again in Another Day in the Hutt with echoed vocals warning the listener that there is ‘nothing to see here’ sung between the breaks. Drugs, although appearing like a punk song, the individual parts are actually surprisingly jazzy. The drums use the ride cymbal liberally and some quick tasty fills could have come straight out of jazz band. The chord sequence could build a blues song, and the lyrics offer a strictly anti-drug sentiment: ‘do it again’ ‘no satisfaction’. This is perhaps the fastest song on the record ignoring earlier songs where only the drums are fast.

Black Cat features rhythms straight out of a drum and bass track, complete with loud vocals, organ stabs giving a reggae sound, but only a little guitar offering some strangled noises. The chorus is sort of upbeat. It’s an interesting song for sure, and a reminder that Lung is always keen to experiment.

The record ends with Ode to a DIY Brickwall. The track has a Hammond organ lead making the song incredibly sad after the noisy adventure of the rest of the album, and although there is humour somewhere, it is buried beneath an overwhelming atmosphere of frustration. A spoken word and possibly impromptu performance hints at the title ‘Fuck paying a builder, I can do it myself, that’ll buff out’. The ending offers a surprisingly beautiful conclusion and offers a connection to the cover art.

What to make of it? Lung fans won’t be disappointed. There’s plenty of noise and raw emotion on offer here. The drums are perhaps a little different than the classic two Lung records of the 90’s most people might know them from, but this is a good thing. For one thing, Zak’s drumming offers an energy that is unexpected and juxtaposes with the slow and raw grind from Dave’s guitar. Equally slow and heavy drums would drag this record’s riffs into stoner/doom metal territory, and the jazz influences (from all instruments) are a way to decipher this as a distinctly unique record. The record is deep, heavy and meaningful in all the right ways. Conversely, and simultaneously, it is a record that doesn’t seem to take itself too seriously, but this may be a ploy to throw the followers off the scent. It makes for an interesting, emotional listen for those who don’t mind a bit of wild noise as part of their grieving process. Put it on loud.

 

About Lung

Lung formed in Palmerston North in the late 1980's out of the remains of The Clear and released two albums on Yellow Bike Records, Cactii and 3 Heads on a Plate, which were also released & distributed throughout Europe and the States by several indie labels including Restless Records in LA. Lung then spent several years touring the northern hemisphere. The original vocalist/guitarist & bassist have reformed this year in Wellington with a new drummer.

Full Moon video clip


Visit the muzic.net.nz Profile for Lung

Releases

Lung Cancer
Year: 2023
Type: Album
Bad Acid Soundtracks II
Year: 2022
Type: Album
3 Heads on a Plate
Year: 1992
Type: Album
Full Moon Again Film
Year: 1991
Type: DVD
Cactii
Year: 1990
Type: Album

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