Detroit four-piece Luder made their debut with 2009’s Sonoluminescence on Small Stone. A band born from tragedy in that it was the death of Slot guitarist Billy Rivkin that led that band’s bassist/vocalist Sue Lott and drummer Eddie Alterman — the latter replaced by Novadriver‘s Eric Miller before the first album was released — to enlist guitarists Phil Dürr (Big Chief) and Scott Hamilton in the renamed outfit, they nonetheless immediately set about exploring a vast sonic scope on Sonoluminescence (review here), and in a few key ways, the sophomore outing, Adelphophagia, follows suit. Aside from being likewise syllabically cumbersome, the second Luder album picks up in some respects where the debut left off, pushing forth stylistically open and progressive vibes tied together through brisk melodicism and Lott‘s varied singing. Songs on the nine-track/62-minute full-length are mostly extended, with opener “Never Liked You” being the only one to dip below the five-minute mark, and the chief difference between Adelphophagia and Sonoluminescence lies not necessarily in a dramatic shift in approach — certainly there’s stylistic growth evident, but it doesn’t feel forced or the result of some master plan — but in the warmth of the tones and the foursome’s willingness to explore the textures they’ve created. Longer pieces like “One Eye” (7:33), “Heartfelt” (8:57), “Dirge” (9:48) and the closer “Remember What I Said” (9:19) make use of the room in their runtime to allow Hamilton and Dürr the space to enact a rich tonal wash, and with a kick drum less forward in the mix and excellent balance of Lott‘s voice in the mix — you can hear it particularly on “Remember What I Said,” but it’s true of the album as a whole as well — Adelphophagia hits a remarkable mixture of heavy psychedelia, progressive rock, and ’90s-style riffy crunch, coming across on the whole as less aggressive than its predecessor, but all the more aesthetically accomplished for that because of the sense of flow within and between the songs included.
Not to speak for anyone else, but I think there’s a certain reticence on the part of reviewers to gush when it comes to Luder because of Hamilton‘s involvement in the band in addition to his being the head of Small Stone Records. That’s fair enough. While Luder don’t sound like anything else on the Small Stone roster, between their Detroit roots and the underlying heavy rock sensibility — Lott‘s bass is thick the way you think of Michigan snowfall as a blanket — I can see that side of the argument. Nobody wants to appear as being in someone else’s pocket. Frankly, I don’t either, whether it’s Small Stone or anyone else. The validity of critique relies on the illusion of impartiality — and yes folks, it’s an illusion. At the same time, Adelphophagia‘s achievements stand worthy of praise regardless of who’s in the lineup, and in fact the effects Hamilton brings to the mix alongside Dürr‘s leads are a big part of what makes the record so immersive and easy to get lost within as “Never Liked You” — the lyrics of which cast an immediate indictment that stands in line as a follow-up to “Selfish and Dumb” from Sonoluminescence — transitions into the slowly churning groove of “Astrolabe,” an early one-two shot of progressive heft further distinguished by the underlying heft of Lott‘s bass and the smoothness which which their choruses are launched. A dreamy but solidified course for Adelphophagia is set, “Astrolabe” building instrumentally to a formidable crescendo before ringing out into the languid guitar intro of “One Eye,” which in like form sets about rising from the bed its made itself. There are verses and choruses, but the central riff is a hook unto itself, building tension but staying in control even as the second chorus gives way to the more raucous crashes that launch the instrumental build that brings “One Eye” to its greatest wash, guitars embroiled alternately in leads and sustained, hard strums echoing in a plod of their own while Miller‘s drum fills add a sense of chaos before the quieter ending cuts to the start of “Heartfelt,” similarly minded in its scope, but even airier and more fluid in its transitions.
Structurally, Adelphophagia works in pairs — fitting to its titular theme referring to the phenomenon of intrauterine cannibalism; one twin fetus eating another — and plays shorter songs off longer ones, two by two, until inserting the David Bowie cover “I’m Afraid of Americans” between “Dirge” and “Remember What I Said” as the penultimate cut. It probably wouldn’t have worked as the closer and there’s nowhere else to really put it. Still, though it’s kicking off the second pair of shorter songs, “Ask the Sky” (6:02) makes a rousing centerpiece for a linear listen of Luder‘s latest, with a clarion guitar line acting as the center of shoegazing dreaminess that calls to mind late ’60s psychedelia that also winds up in one of the album’s strongest choruses. The song meanders but loses neither its gorgeousness nor its flow, that same clarion line returning at the start of the second verse, shorter leading into a louder, more forward chorus that in turn morphs into a lead section, becoming more and more of a swirl until before you even realize as you listen, Luder have shifted into a space-rock freakout with such subtlety and patience that it becomes a shame when it ends. Guitar also starts the subsequent “You Try It” — another direct address — but the mood is darker. A foundation of background distortion lets a winding guitar line come forward with the bass, but even the more active chorus and bridge keep to the more brooding vibe. Resting on the title line, the chorus stands up to “Astrolabe” and “Never Liked You” well enough, but on such an impeccably structured album there are no real accidents, and the placement of “You Try It” isn’t one either. To be fair, almost anything would have trouble sandwiched between “Ask the Sky” and “Dirge,” the sleepy progression of which is probably Adelphophagia‘s single greatest achievement, Lott coming more forward vocally and casting off some of the echo in the earthier verses only to open in kind with the instruments surrounding for the chorus. As has been the case several times by now, her bass and Miller‘s drums are the glue holding the piece together when the guitars go exploring, Hamilton with effects, Dürr with solos, but there’s no single element in “Dirge” that isn’t made stronger by the others around it.
An extended instrumental section following the last chorus feels well-plotted to the most effective build possible, breaking from the lines, “This fear has gone away/I know I’m on my own/Lord I hope he understands,” to the best solo and psychedelic wash Luder have to offer. The music writhes and twists gracefully, but keeps forward motion as well, moving you along even as it continues to hypnotize, slowly deconstructing over the course of its last two minutes or so to let the last give over to noise and effects and feedback. There’s a brief spoken sample near the end — maybe Rivkin? — and the last echoes of “Dirge” fade in such a way that probably could’ve capped the record, but Luder decide to keep going and throw a curve in the form of “I’m Afraid of Americans.” The song was topical enough when Bowie teamed with Trent Reznor of Nine Inch Nails for the original version in 1997 and it’s not like American culture or foreign or domestic policy has gotten any more rational since, so yeah, alright. I’m not sure how much sense it makes following “Dirge” on Adelphophagia, but at very least Luder perform it well and it allows them to play to some of the trip-hop ambience that showed up on Sonoluminescence and are otherwise largely absent here, expanding the already considerable breadth and grounding the overarching flow of the release with what even for David Bowie was a landmark hook en route to “Remember What I Said”‘s revival of psychedelic vibing. There’s a bit of tension leftover from “I’m Afraid of Americans” that bleeds into the finale, but over the course of its first couple minutes, “Remember What I Said” sets its own course, arriving early at a satisfying wash to echo “Dirge” — albeit with more serenity — and breaking after four minutes in to start over from the ground up, a flourish of effects backing all the while. Lott‘s vocals are something of a guiding force over obscure guitars and bass and drums that seem to be given to their own movement, but as the last build unfolds, it’s more than enjoyable to be led into the fray by the layers of sweet melody. Dürr takes the fore with a last solo, and they finish languid under big skies with ringing tones that suddenly cut out as if to convey there’s still more to be said. There may well be, since for an outing as sonically engaging and stylistically expansive as Luder‘s Adelphophagia is, it’s hard to imagine that it’s also where the band’s creative evolution ends. If it is or it isn’t, we’ve probably got a while before finding out — it was four years between the first and second albums and Luder don’t appear to be in any hurry — but fortunately, Adelphophagia provides a deep enough listen that it should be no problem holding over till the next one.