You’d be at a loss to find people on this green earth who haven’t asked themselves, at least once, what love is. The most universal answer I’ve heard: “Love is complicated”. Indeed. Love from one person to another involves two players, but the drama is often generated inside one’s own head. You can love someone and not be loved back. You can be in love with things and ideas and have great difficulty loving a human being. Love gets mixed with other emotions—some savory, some not so much. Elaine Hatfield identified two very different kinds of love; John Lee came up with six. It’s basic—many would say ingrained from birth—but still thorny as all hell. I could go on and on.
Perhaps the archetypal love songs we still hear are an escape from this maddening complexity, a way to make “true love” sound as pure as it implies. But few angsty adolescents or stubborn realists want to hear them. For those who can’t stay very long in fantasyland, Callers’ second album, Life of Love, is revelatory. Essentially a three-piece, the shy New Orleans natives brought their stormy, jazzy indie rock to Brooklyn, N.Y., and recorded the album over a tumultuous year. You can hear the intensity curdling the muted din they summon, a strange and potent cross between Marissa Nadler’s haunting folk and the chilly, dramatic post-rock of Louisville’s ‘90s elite, with a touch of bayou jazz. And it’s one of the most effective records I’ve heard in a while at making love actually sound complicated.
Sara Lucas, the torch singer at the center of this whirlwind, sings in stretched, smoky syllables that are deliberately hard to put together into entire phrases, many of which continue across stanzas. But this is undoubtedly an album about love, whether the words are decipherable or not, and the vocals ring with an angular sort of passion. When words come through, nearly always in pieces, they have an abstract, surreal quality that matches Lucas’s winding intonations: “You are an easy arc”, “You walk with your arms wrapped in gold”, “ “So could we tonight ride/And I begin to roll”. I even heard an “uh-oh” somewhere in there, which may just be the single most uttered word among intimately involved people. Everything feels like a deeply personal observation, even when it isn’t—a day in the life of someone’s love-riddled thoughts.
Lucas enjoys the perfect musical backing for her vocal style, as well as for the record’s theme. Best described as a low-budget rumble with the potential to become both quite tense and beautifully languorous—even loungey—it’s more voluptuous and richly involved than their debut, Fortune, and devoid of maudlin moments. It is a pleasure to catch the ornamentation all over the record, like sudden male backing vocals and light choirs that would bring tears to Jóhann Jóhannsson’s eyes. The sound’s rough timbral quality and delicate touches instantly reminded me of another Brooklyn band’s recent record: Grizzly Bear’s Veckatimest. But Callers don’t show off, nor do they play easy listening. It may as well be the contorted, realistic, earthbound flipside to Veckatimest’s carefree, overly embellished getaway.
The nervier songs have more in common, sonically and thematically, with post-Riot Grrrl underdogs Scrawl and Ruby Falls than they do with Brooklyn indie. A scary and beautiful thing happens in “Roll”, the second to last song in the sequence: The choir that lit up the appropriately titled (and nearly rhyming) “Glow” appears again, pitched 100 leagues into the depths, and becomes a demonic bellow rising upward. “Young People” has a jagged, slanted rhythm and guitars that sound like fingers curling into a fist. Yet the broad range of Life of Love is one of its most impressive features. In “How You Hold Your Arms”, Lucas begins purring, “Hey, boy…” over a sweetly plucked guitar figure, and then proceeds to explore his body while building him up. Six tracks in, we finally get our “love song”, and it is absolutely stunning. So it seems that even Callers believe in the power of true love, after all.