“I didn’t know if we were going to be able to recreate the magic,” Tunng’s Mike Lindsay tells Apple Music of returning to LUMP, his collaboration with Laura Marling, following 2018’s acclaimed, eponymous debut. “I was petrified.” It’s not too hard to see why. LUMP—on which Marling layered, as she puts it, “essentially free-form nonsense poetry” atop atmospheric electronic folk soundscapes crafted by Lindsay—presented a strangely wonderful meeting of musical minds that few could have predicted. Fortunately, Animal proves that it was no one-off. Here, bolstered by their experience of touring together, LUMP takes their sound to bigger, bolder, and more hedonistic places, as the duo explores—like they did on their debut—a space somewhere between sweetness and menace, darkness and light. “That’s what makes it work for me,” says Lindsay. “There’s this creepiness versus cuteness. It needs to grate up against each other to keep it surprising.” And there are plenty of surprises, from gloriously danceable moments (“Animal”) to off-kilter indie pop (“Climb Every Wall,” “We Cannot Resist”) and one thrilling, truly unexpected guitar solo (“Paradise”).
Marling—who drew from her study of psychoanalysis and her own dreams for this album’s lyrics—says Animal is about “desire and the under-conscious things that are driving us,” as well as our attention deficit, validation, fame (including her own), and cultural shifts. (If any of that sounds impenetrable, it somehow isn’t once you press play.) There is, too, a sense of freedom and playfulness throughout. And for Marling in particular—who worked on Animal alongside 2020’s Song for Our Daughter—that has always been the beauty of LUMP. “When I was working on Song for Our Daughter, I was having problems with my throat. I was struggling to sustain my voice or catch my breath. But in the studio with Mike, I wasn’t experiencing those problems. I think that obviously says a lot about what LUMP was to me at that time, which is just a huge relief. Laura Marling is this very private, stressful experience, whereas LUMP is an energetic force to draw on. There are no bad ideas.” Read on as Marling and Lindsay guide us through their second musical adventure, one track at a time.
“Bloom at Night” Mike Lindsay: “With the ambient beginning, I feel this song has an element of similarity to the opening track on LUMP. But when those beats click in, it’s a shock. It just felt the perfect way to draw you in and then make you wonder, ‘What's going to happen on this record? ’Cause I don't really know what this is anymore.’” Laura Marling: “The first lyric that I came up with was ‘It took one God seven days to go insane.’ I guess I was trying to describe the feeling of what people have been reduced to in the attention age. The indecency of being reduced, at times, to get your piece of attention in the world, which none of us is above—particularly artists and musicians.”
“Gamma Ray” ML: “We had the chorus first, but it took a long time to figure out the verse part. Laura went to the kitchen and came back with this amazing set of lyrics—really menacing, covered in attitude. They slotted in perfectly around the stupid timing this song is in (it’s in 7/4). When we layered up that verse at the end of the last chorus, it was like black magic or something. When you hear the words ‘Excuse me, I don’t think we’ve been introduced,’ for me that’s the voice of Lump [the duo’s yeti-like mascot, who appeared on the cover of their debut].”
“Animal” LM: “This was the easiest to decipher from the music Mike had made. And again, lyrically following the theme of desire, and sort of the gross accoutrements of desire.” ML: “We had that riff, and it felt like a kind of ’90s, slowed-down rave riff or something. The first lyrics Laura started singing—‘Dance, dance, this is your last chance’—were a joke, with that overly British voice, just for fun. But for me, it was kind of a eureka moment. And in the breakdown, she started doing this kind of gospel or party animal moment and it blew my mind. What Laura is singing in the middle collapse of the song is the word ‘animal.’ And that's why it became the title of the album. I think it's such a strong, very simple word that meant a lot to the LUMP project.”
“Climb Every Wall” ML: “For me, this song is all about the bassline. There was a kind of melancholy and drunkenness at the same time. It felt like a brilliant piece of pop music, which I hadn’t really done in LUMP before. But Laura totally twisted it into something I wasn’t really expecting. It’s dark, foreboding, with almost a Nico-esque voice.”
“Red Snakes” LM: “This song is similar to stuff I’ve done before, but with LUMP’s slightly wonky imagery. I have a recurring dream of my mother being in a pool of water at night, like a pond, and not being able reach her. In one of the dreams I reached into the water to see what was in there and a huge red snake came and bit my arm and I couldn't get it off. That’s obviously a very stark image and a very strong feeling, so it came together quickly. The intimacy of the piano also dictated that.”
“Paradise” ML: “I wasn’t sure about this track. Partly because it’s in a slightly different key to the other tracks, so I was like, ‘It’s going to ruin my journey, man!’ But I was wrong. It’s one of those tunes that is very creepy mixed with this pure joy. I worried it was just too far beyond what we’ve done before, but I think that was why Laura wanted it on the record. And for me, all that really matters about this song is the badass guitar solo.” LM: “The ‘paradise’ in the context of the song is either that moment near death or the moment near waking when you have a sort of ecstatic experience. The whole fool's journey is that we're getting back to that state, total bliss, just unachievable. It's a fantasy. And then, that was intertwined with me having a dream in which my therapist approached me on the top deck of a London bus, offered me a cucumber sandwich, then asked me out on a date. And that was a disturbing image, as I'm sure you'd agree.”
“Hair on the Pillow” ML: “This whole album is supposed to be one kind of journey. And I think after we’ve had the massive moment of ‘Paradise,’ we needed some time to reflect. What is this world you’ve been put in sonically? It’s also a chance to reflect on some of Laura’s imagery. The words ‘hair on your pillow’ is sampled form ‘Animal’ through a heavily pitched-down vocoder. It’s another example of the voice of Lump the character.”
“We Cannot Resist” LM: “This song is a pretty well-trodden story: kids on the run, first love, biggest heartbreak, and so on. Then there’s all this quite strange libidinal language about profanity. Desire is quite often something that's either really tightly strung or has gone slack. I was just messing around with that and it ended up making it a not straightforward pop song.” ML: “There’s a magic moment at the end of this song when it just dissipates into whispers, which then continues into the flutes of the next song, ‘Oberon,’ which are actually the same flutes from ‘Bloom at Night.’ The whole record has these kinds of in-between tracks, which give a different flavor to the song you just heard. This song is kind of a broken pop song that doesn’t quite know what it’s supposed to be.”
“Oberon” LM: “Mike had this piece of music and we didn’t have very long to work on it—he was in Margate and I was going home at the end of the day, so we needed to come up with something quickly. I have a continuous run of notebooks—the front is for Laura Marling and the back, flipped around, is for LUMP. I flipped it to the Laura Marling side and found something I had never used. ‘Oberon’ must have been in the mix for Song for Our Daughter. We did three takes and I read excerpts of notes that I’d written way back. Then Mike just cut them up and put them in random places, so that their meaning was completely different and obscure. It turned out to be an odd, pleasing listen.”
“Phantom Limb” LM: “I make a daily habit of underlining things in newspapers and quote some stuff, phrases that I like. This song is just a repository for the funny phrasing I’ve heard in the last few years. Lots of the lyrics are about things that are uncomfortable to think about—slightly disturbing images.” ML: “This song has a rolling time signature that never ends. I could listen to it forever. ‘We have some work to do’ is such a brilliant line to end the whole project on. It can be very open to interpretation as a comment on society. This ending makes me want to go back to the start and retrace my steps, to work out what journey I’ve just listened to.”