Ludicra – The Tenant
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2009 was biblically rough. Few were excepted from the collapse of the world’s economy, widespread job loss, and a dithering first year for a new US president. People who were doing OK did poorly, and people who were doing poorly did even worse. It was a year that left little hope on the horizon.
Ludicra‘s The Tenant (Profound Lore, 2010) is the soundtrack to this time. Perhaps the trauma of the past year has me feeling extra-vulnerable, but a metal album hasn’t spoken to me this strongly since high school. Few bands observe the world outside their own four walls as thoughtfully as Ludicra do. This record is political without being preachy or obvious. It’s expressive without being solipsistic or sentimental. Most importantly, it’s the sound of a community transcending the despair of modern life through art.
If outwardly we accept that nothing can be done without money, Ludicra remind us how frustrating this reality feels. Their enduring theme, the savagery of urban life, reaches its apex on The Tenant. The title speaks to the lack of identity that tenancy creates. In San Francisco, Ludicra’s and my hometown, you’re only worth what you can pay. Everyone borrows their livelihood to stay afloat. As cost of living and unemployment increase, there’s precious little time to make art, connect with loved ones, and do the things that make you feel human. Ludicra express this frustration eloquently. The title track is a bleak, self-flagellating meditation on desire unfulfilled inside the “narrow rented tombs” of our city apartments. “The Undercaste” posits that we ignore the homeless because they reflect our frailties: “Frowned upon are the weak and the worn / For they reek of sick and sorrow”. “A Larger Silence” and “The Truth Won’t Set You Free” aim skepticism at well-to-do Bay Area positivists: “Truth has not yet set us free / Right and wrong raise their flags”. The latter rides an epic and haunting riff through until the close, seeking a vaster horizon.
The lush production soars without sheen. Guitars sound like guitars, not digital chunks, twisting around each other in mournful wails, triumphant resolutions, and dreamy chords. Ludicra balance the beautiful and the ugly like few can. This is partly thanks to the vocals, which sound equally convincing as black metal wraiths and angelic choir. Blackened storms of guitars give way to melancholy acoustic interludes propped up by tribal drums. Savage post-punk segues effortlessly into atmospheric arpeggios. Black metal, shoegaze, classic rock, and blackened folk all rear their heads, but Ludicra never fall prey to the indulgences of genre-hopping. Two key factors allow Ludicra to realize their lofty ambitions: (1) a supremely adept rhythm section in Ross Sewage and Aesop Dekker, both of whom handle half-time breakdowns and blastbeats with equal aplomb, and 2) a classically evolved sense of composition where one or two massive themes birth an entire song. In fact, guitarist John Cobbett tweeted about that very process. The sinuous interplay of John Cobbett and Christy Cather is up there with Hanneman/King, Tipton/Downing, and any other seminal metal guitar duo.
This is my favorite record of 2010 thus far, and among most innovative and moving metal records I’ve heard in some time. It’s timely, crushing, and above all else, heartfelt. In ten years when I’m feeling nostalgic for the pains of 2009, this record will be my guide.