It’s very nearly impossible not to be initially drawn in to Light in the Attic’s recent reissue of the obscure vanity press, L’Amour, based solely on its cover image. Against a stark white backdrop, a confident yet enigmatic (almost smug) smile sits on a Romanesque face beneath perfectly sculpted blonde hair, knowing eyes, and shirtless torso, all hallmarks of the time in which the mysterious Lewis (nee Randall Wulff) recorded this strange little album in Los Angeles.
But a closer examination begins to reveal the cracks in the façade: the face isn’t nearly as young as an initial glance would indicate, with lines beginning to appear across the forehead and around the eyes and mouth; the hair isn’t quite as blonde as first assumed and, given the darker shades above the ears, could even be the result of a gradual greying; and the seemingly pristine skin carries with it a weathered look that would indicate not a young man, but rather someone perhaps on the cusp of middle age, making a last attempt at a dying dream fueled by a quickly diminishing youth.
In this closer inspection we begin to see hints of what lies within the grooves: sounds far too subtle and self-conscious to have been created by the self-confident lothario portrayed on the cover. While the cover image itself suggests an almost unpleasant level of confidence generally associated with those who’ve gotten away with any number of transgressions throughout the whole of their lives based solely on their outward appearance, the music contained within would wholly suggest otherwise.
Rather than some brash rock, bedroom-voiced soul, or smooth-operator pickup lines, we’re greeted by a hushed piano on opening track “I Thought the World of You” and, as throughout, nearly intelligible, softly, intentionally obscured vocals. It is the latter in which L’Amour shifts from novel vanity press to fascinating musical document, juxtaposing visual confidence and aural vulnerability to create something truly mesmerizing.
When words do occasionally float to the surface, it’s as though we’re hearing fragments of some vaguely recollected story or encounter that, while clearly having left a lasting impact, maddeningly will remain forever obscured by the haze memory. Bits and pieces of lost loves, brief moments in foreign lands, and a host of other unintelligible ephemera drift by in a voice not quite falsetto, not quite full, never entirely sure of itself. Oftentimes you can hear him physically pulling back from the mic, not wanting to get too close to us, creating a natural vocal fadeout that confuses the senses as the music continues at volume while the vocals slowly disappear, only to return when he’s able to muster the confidence necessary to continue on.
Overall, it’s a soft, vocally subtle approach not too far removed from jazz vocalist Patty Waters’ first album (at least until that album’s closing track when all hell breaks loose) in that Lewis employs a somewhat hushed tonality throughout and crafts delicate, piano- and guitar-based arrangements making for ideal late-night listening. “My Whole Life” could easily serve as the male rejoinder to Waters’ “I Can’t Forget You” in its recollection of misguided lovers meant to be together, yet destined to fall apart, forever pining for one another.
What is being said eventually becomes inconsequential as the voice itself is what is most important here and the emotions it seeks to evoke, becoming more an instrument meant to convey specific feelings rather than engaging in any sort of verbal, comprehensible communication. As such, it fades into its instrumental surroundings, swallowed by soft synths, plaintively sparse guitar work, and the occasional delicate piano figure. Random synth stabs rise in the mix on the hypnotic “Like to See You Again”, while hesitant wrong notes permeate the record, seemingly perfect in their obvious imperfection. On “Summer’s Moon”, the synth drops out entirely after a particularly egregious chord is struck, returning only after summoning the courage to rejoin the unabated piano figure. Perhaps the result of time constraints or a genuine disinterest in fixing past mistakes, these errors lend an air of delicate immediacy that perfectly suits music of this nature.
Ultimately, L’Amour is an album that, despite its relative musical simplicity and sparse arrangements, requires repeated listens to even begin to hope to grasp its beguiling complexity. Without close listening, each song dissolves into the next, a hypnotic effect heightened by the fairly even mix of instrumentals and vocal tracks that, together, create a very specific, somewhat somnambulant mood brought on by the soothing tonalities of both the instrumentation and the hazy enigma that is Lewis’ voice. On “Things Just Happen That Way” we get snatches of love stories with seemingly significant details obscured by Lewis’ cotton-mouthed delivery, names and details vocally blurred to protect the innocent.
Much like the artist behind L’Amour, the details themselves, long-since lost to time, no longer seem all that important as the focus falls squarely on the music itself. With no tangible information on Wulff available at present (perhaps he was a fan of the homonymic Western author from whom he seemingly cribbed his nom de song and album title), we’re left with only this brief document with its hushed vocals, obscured lyrics, and beguiling cover photograph to satiate our inherent curiosity. Thirty years removed from its original release and sounding as though it could have been created at nearly any time during the intervening years, L’Amour will no doubt continue to prove a fascinating paradox for years to come, its history long since forgotten by those who played a role in its creation and its creator having vanished, much like his voice, into the haze of time. Having gotten a little too close, he found he had to pull away, naturally fading out before disappearing altogether.
// Notes from the Road
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