LP review, Churches: Celestial pop with a rock’n’roll edge

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Singer-songwriter LP (Ryan Jay)
Singer-songwriter LP (Ryan Jay)

“My music errs on the histrionic side, but that’s how I feel, you know,” LP told Glide magazine last week. The thrills of that wild emotion are balanced by seasoned songcraft on their sixth album. A sonic evocation of the antique clipper ship that the 40-year-old artist has tattooed on their chest, Churches is a salty voyage of a record. Confidently genre-fluid, it fills its sails with powerful blasts of synth pop; tilts and tumbles on the choppier waves of indie rock and drifts on peaceful currents of ukulele-plucked folk.

For the uninitiated, LP is Laura Pergolizzi, still best known for 2016’s smash hit “Lost on You”. Aptly enough for a singer-songwriter whose unkempt curls, huge shades and twisted mouth recall a young Bob Dylan, the song proved to be the new millennium’s answer to “Don’t Think Twice it’s Alright” (1963). Over lonesome whistling and a thudding drumbeat – in a voice whose grazed yearnings drew comparisons with Stevie Nicks and Cyndi Lauper – LP kissed off a lover with lines like: “When you get older, plainer, saner/ Will you remember all the danger/ We came from?”

The breakthrough was long-awaited validation for LP, whose career path is similar to that of Australian artist Sia. The child of an opera singer who died when LP was just 16, they scored their first record deal for the alternative music they were writing in 2006. Rent money (and pop chops) came from writing songs for artists including Rihanna, Cher and the Backstreet Boys. LP learnt to pare lyrics down and embrace the stadium-sized euphoria of anthem choruses. In the meantime, they honed their supercool androgyne persona, alley-catting across New York stages in skinny jeans and military jackets. The punk swagger and snarl was at beguiling odds with the surprisingly sweet and tremulous vocal moments that that reliably stunned audiences.

Churches is LP at their best: cursing and worshipping at love’s altar. It opens with the theatrical, brow-mopping declaration of “When We Touch”, before bopping into the catchy, clubby pop pulse of “Goodbye”, a giddy liberation anthem on which they lament: “I loved her and lost her/ And I don't know why.” Then they whoop their way past the culture wars: “The subtext is complex/ And in the end we're all just having the same sex.”

Ensuing bangers include “Angels”, on which LP is cast as a knight on a quest for the holy grail of romance. Ye olde imagery of kings and queens on mezzanines is contrasted against the crisp modern psychology of: “It’s only a case of denial/ That messes with my inner child.” That optimism is balanced by the intoxicating synth cynicism of “Everybody’s Falling in Love”, on which they sing: “Drink me like the cheapest wine/ And disappear in a day/ I’m not going for the win.” A ukulele strum is brilliantly integrated into the electro beat; a cool twang elasticates the disco narrative of “How Long Can You Go”, which begins: “Last time I saw you/ We did coke in a closet/ At the Chateau Marmont…” LP later professes mixed emotions upon hearing their lover now has “some kids and a guy… I still think of you now/ When I’m touching the sky.”

Rock drama is delivered on the prostrate “The One You Love”, as Chrissie Hynde-indebted ululations soar above chunky riffs and strings. There’s a post-punk feel to the synth bells tolling over the bass line of “Conversation” – their echoes stalk moodily through “Safe Here”. Then there’s pretty guitar-picking on the slightly cutesy “Rainbow” and the lovely title track, on which LP rejects organised religions in which “a woman has to hide her head from God to get a seat” in favour of more earthly communion. “I’m not lookin’ for perfection,” they growl over a Spanish guitar, “I prefer to keep ‘em guessin’.” But LP manages to do both on this album, reaching for heavenly pop heights without losing any of their rock star enigma.

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