The debut album by LYR is an eclectic and ambitious new project, derived from a trio of producer Patrick Pearson, musician Richard Walters and poet Simon Armitage. Besides a slew of solo records and writing for the likes of Gabrielle Aplin and Alison Moyet, Walters previously worked with Simon Armitage on his solo track Redwoods; way back in 2009, the origins of LYR. From there, with the intention of creating “a spoken word project that had a bit more of a life around it in terms of the musical setting”, Walters enlisted Pearson, with whom he had previously collaborated with in a band called Liu Bei. Thus, LYR was born. Besides being a self-professed fan of post-punk groups like The Smiths and The Fall, Armitage is no stranger to the music world, as the vocalist of The Scaremongers, whose album was released in 2009. Redwoods applied Armitage’s words to Walters’ music, and LYR’s debut is similar but goes far, far beyond being a vehicle for the poet’s verses. The combination of the electronic experimentation, plus Pearson’s transcendental piano playing, is an almost cinematically driven audio experience alongside the narrative of the poetry.
Armitage’s vocal timbres are an absolute highlight, his untarnished Yorkshire accent adding another layer of solemnity to the album’s tragedy-sewn mire. At several points, especially on Leaves on the Line, Armitage’s vocals intertwine with Walters’ in an even more moving pairing.
Armitage inhabits characters throughout, some similar, some disparate. This is done with tremendous ingenuity from the poet, particularly upon Adam’s Apple, where he toys with the Biblical characterisation of Adam. As he explains himself, “I think he’s probably a contemporary incarnation of the biblical Adam, minus the apple of his eye, Eve. When he sees her in the mirror, she’s an apparition. Obviously it was a sexual adventure between the two of them that led to their exclusion from paradise, and the lump in Adam’s throat is the physicalisation of that misdemeanour.” The staccato chords are captivating, while this jarring and percussive guitar simultaneously cuts pierces the core, as do the metaphoric veneer of the words.
Pearson’s piano arrangements are sparse and primal enough not to impinge on the narrative or imagery of the words, yet still plaintive and evocative. Elsewhere, the pianos are discordant, just as mournful as the saddening subject matter. The percussion is similarly articulated, building up to a stirring canter of drums on Urban Myth 91, or the maleficent synthesised drums on 33 1/3. This, alongside the wistful strings on tracks like Never Good With Horses and it’s sung refrain from Walters, summons the heart-rending soundscapes of Sigur Rós or Radiohead. Several detailed flourishes, ranging from a series of delicately melancholic birdsong on Zodiac T-Shirt to what sounds like pattering footsteps on Urban Myth 91, add to the cinematic nature of the project. LYR add further variety with the addition of the Indian stringed instrument the Kora.
The album’s title is derived from second track Zodiac T-Shirt, with Armitage inciting the phrase throughout the highly sorrowful, meditative track. Pearson’s plodding piano notes blend seamlessly into the words. This then culminates in Armitage repeating “Call in the Crash Team” in the track’s final minute, building in intensity with the rising instrumentation. This title came to LYR easily in such times as these, with Walters saying, “It goes back to that idea of people in crisis, and us being the crash team,”, “The emotional crash team, resuscitating.” With the aforementioned Urban Myth 91, the piano is an affecting accomplice to Armitage’s tension-filled poetry. This tale wanders across bleak city landscapes, all while the listener is vicariously carried through it by the music. The under one-minute Product Testing, initially a novelty, splices apart the album’s flow excellently with dry humour. Armitage repeats dolorous “ON”s and “OFF”s in amongst experimental, buffering electronic buzzes like a poet reshuffling his mental faculties before a grand performance. This would be certainly plausible, with the next track Great Coat being a poetic marvel, easily rivalling Armitage’s greatest. The track seems to reflect on a desirable but ultimately refused trait, through the profound metaphor of the Great Coat.
33 1/3 is a hauntingly serene stage, laden with nostalgic record player imagery. The track’s background is doubly poignant, as Armitage’s ode to the tragic passing of Ian Curtis. Immediately reminiscent of Joy Division, not only in the machinery-based lyrics, but also the greasy and organic production style, issuing comforting crackles.
Despite Armitage’s reflections on the mundane minutiae, quite literally minute on The Quick Brown Fox Jumps Over the Lazy Dog (which discusses “ephemera” under 100 grams), his words convey an incalculably weighty meaning: partly from the poet Laureate’s instinct for tremendously moving metaphor, and partly the muscular instrumentation.
Whether a fan of poetry and spoken word music or not, Call in the Crash Team is a beautiful place for listeners to reside extensively, if not for their own answers in Armitage’s words, then at least for temporary immersion in a project rich with intrigue and emotion against elegant musical tapestries.
1. The First Time
2. Zodiac T-Shirt
3. Never Good With Horses
4. Urban Myth #91
5. Adam’s Apple
6. Product Testing
7. Great Coat
8. 33 1/3
9. The National Trust Range Of Paints Colour Card
10. The Quick Brown Fox Jumps Over The Lazy Dog
11. Leaves On The Line
The album is released June 26th via Mercury KX. Listen to their Lockdown collaboration with Melt Yourself Down and Florence Pugh below, or enjoy their releases so far here.