Plants and Animals: La La Land

Plants and Animals are still stretching, still swelling around, pulling us into their world. They're just a little more up front, and little less theatrical, about it on La La Land.

Plants and Animals

La La Land

US Release: 2010-04-20
Label: Secret City
UK Release: import
Artist Website
Label Website

Out in the world, plants and animals are things we tend to impinge upon. They're all out there in the world, moving around in their familiar circles, and we build cities out to meet them, or pave walkways through their forests, or domesticate them into pets or stick them in pots on our front porch. The point is: we move into their territory.

But the band Plants and Animals? Well, that's a whole other story. They force themselves upon you. They spread out and take over, pulling you into their frayed, expansive sound. Their 2008 album, Parc Avenue, traveled the dusty roads of Crazy Horse with all the wide-eyed theatrics of Meatloaf. It soared, dipped into valleys, spread out and took its time -- and we loved every minute of it.

Their sophomore release, La La Land, does not take the same trajectory. The path through this album is a much more direct one, steeped in head-on rock and roll. The guitars are big and fuzzy here, the rhythms singular and driving. In one way, it eschews the oddball antics of its predecessor -- which helped its soCal '70s feel gain a touch of the new -- but also it manages, in its finest moments, a subtler expanse that works well.

It's pretty clear with the seething opener, "Tom Cruz", that things are a bit different on this record. The band actually sounds like a three piece here, where as on the last record it sounded like an entire Canadian province could have been in on the songs. But let's leave that album behind for a moment. La La Land succeeds on different, perhaps more modest terms, by clearing out the clutter a bit. A few instruments make a whole lot of noise on this record. "The Mama Papa" is a lean rocker, guitars echoing out as the bass snaps off each percussive note. Warren Spencer's vocals have a hard-edged urgency, but here -- and all through the record -- there's a confident swagger to his singing that adds a whole lot of charm to the record.

"The Mama Papa" falls in line with a handful of songs that really hold up the record. Closer "Jeans Jeans Jeans", the tangled "Swinging Bells", and the desert-dust rock of "Undone Melody" are all high points here, combining the straighter paths of La La Land with the irrepressible size we've come to expect from these guys. These songs are also proof that this is a guitar record all the way, and the fellas achieve different textures in each, from the frazzled dream of "Swinging Bells" to the triumphant reverb of "Jeans Jeans Jeans", these are the songs that mark what's working for Plants and Animals on this new record. The songs are immediate, but they also make space for you to live in, and you will live in them eventually, and find all the sonic secrets they have hidden.

Those songs also hold up a middle of the record that gets a bit lost. Starting with the near-catchy "American Idol" -- which could be anthemic, if the chorus melody didn't seem a beat off -- the exploration we expect turns to searching, and the searching can be a bit slow. The funk-lite of "Kon Tiki" rides smoothly enough, but it feels like it's waiting to change into what it really is, and it never quite does. "Game Shows", meanwhile, wants the same stretched-out feel of "Undone Melody", but the mix of instruments is just a touch too thin. The threadbare doesn't suit them here, and the strings and quiet piano don't build the song enough to fill out its five minutes.

It would be easy to see this record as a sophomore slump. It's simpler -- at least at first listen -- compared to its ambitious and successful debut. But there's some other sort of ambition on La La Land: the ambition to push towards something new. That road is always a tough one to travel, and while they lean into the occasional rut, they find more than they lose on this record. Plants and Animals are still stretching, still trying to swell around us, and pull us into their world. On this record, they're just a little more up front, and little less theatric, about it.






Alright Alright's "Don't Worry" Is an Ode for Unity in Troubling Times (premiere)

Alright Alright's "Don't Worry" is a gentle, prayerful tune that depicts the heart of their upcoming album, Crucible.


Tim Bowness of No-Man Discusses Thematic Ambition Amongst Social Division

With the release of his seventh solo album, Late Night Laments, Tim Bowness explores global tensions and considers how musicians can best foster mutual understanding in times of social unrest.


Angel Olsen Creates a 'Whole New Mess'

No one would call Angel Olsen's Whole New Mess a pretty album. It's much too stark. But there's something riveting about the way Olsen coos to herself that's soft and comforting.


Masma Dream World Go Global and Trippy on "Sundown Forest" (premiere)

Dancer, healer, musician Devi Mambouka shares the trippy "Sundown Forest", which takes listeners deep into the subconscious and onto a healing path.


'What a Fantastic Death Abyss': David Bowie's 'Outside' at 25

David Bowie's Outside signaled the end of him as a slick pop star and his reintroduction as a ragged-edged arty agitator.


Dream Folk's Wolf & Moon Awaken the Senses with "Eyes Closed" (premiere)

Berlin's Wolf & Moon are an indie folk duo with a dream pop streak. "Eyes Closed" highlights this aspect as the act create a deep sense of atmosphere and mood with the most minimal of tools.


Ranking the Seasons of 'The Wire'

Years after its conclusion, The Wire continues to top best-of-TV lists. With each season's unique story arc, each viewer is likely to have favorites.


Paul Reni's Silent Film 'The Man Who Laughs' Is Serious Cinema

There's so much tragedy present, so many skullduggeries afoot, and so many cruel and vindictive characters in attendance that a sad and heartbreaking ending seems to be an obvious given in Paul Reni's silent film, The Man Who Laughs.


The Grahams Tell Their Daughter "Don't Give Your Heart Away" (premiere)

The Grahams' sweet-sounding "Don't Give Your Heart Away" is rooted in struggle, inspired by the couples' complicated journey leading up to their daughter's birth.


Gloom Balloon Deliver an Uplifting Video for "All My Feelings For You" (premiere)

Gloom Balloon's Patrick Tape Fleming considers what making a music video during a pandemic might involve because, well, he made one. Could Fellini come up with this plot twist?


What 'O Brother, Where Art Thou?' Gets Right (and Wrong) About America

Telling the tale of the cyclops through the lens of high and low culture, in O'Brother, Where Art Thou? the Coens hammer home a fatalistic criticism about the ways that commerce, violence, and cosmetic Christianity prevail in American society .


Brian Cullman Gets Bluesy with "Someday Miss You" (premiere)

Brian Cullman's "Someday Miss You" taps into American roots music, carries it across the Atlantic and back for a sound that is both of the past and present.


IDLES Have Some Words for Fans and Critics on 'Ultra Mono'

On their new album, Ultra Mono, IDLES tackle both the troubling world around them and the dissenters that want to bring them down.


Napalm Death Return With Their Most Vital Album in Decades

Grindcore institution Napalm Death finally reconcile their experimental side with their ultra-harsh roots on Throes of Joy in the Jaws of Defeatism.


NYFF: 'Notturno' Looks Passively at the Chaos in the Middle East

Gianfranco Rosi's expansive documentary, Notturno, is far too remote for its burningly immediate subject matter.


The Avett Brothers Go Back-to-Basics with 'The Third Gleam'

For their latest EP, The Third Gleam, the Avett Brothers leave everything behind but their songs and a couple of acoustic guitars, a bass, and a banjo.


PM Picks Playlist 1: Rett Madison, Folk Devils + More

The first PopMatters Picks Playlist column features searing Americana from Rett Madison, synthpop from Everything and Everybody, the stunning electropop of Jodie Nicholson, the return of post-punk's Folk Devils, and the glammy pop of Baby FuzZ.


David Lazar's 'Celeste Holm  Syndrome' Appreciates Hollywood's Unsung Character Actors

David Lazar's Celeste Holm Syndrome documents how character actor work is about scene-defining, not scene-stealing.

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.