by Leci Solis
Only one year after their first full-length release, the thunderous Cincinnati duo return with their sophomore effort All The King's Horses, burning antiquated kingdoms and razing genre conventions to the ground. Under the Sofaburn Records label, this is their second album recorded with John Hoffman at the retro-gem Ultrasuede Studios conceived during the band's first tour travels that coincidentally aligned with the beginning of the nefarious Trump administration. The album cover features the cryptic and cathartic artwork of the illustrious artist, musician, and long-time contributor Rachelle Caplan. The artwork conveys the mood and captures the menacing, vigorous, and dangerously evocative and ever-present musical staples in Lung's repertoire: Kate Wakefield's dulcet yet eerie siren calls, the bombarding drums of Daisy Caplan, and that devious, janus-faced instrument that violently shifts between chamber melody finesse and destructive grunge rock.
Daisy's bestial drumbeats introduce the multicolored mayhem in order for the cello distortion to weave a dense musical web, only to be pierced by Kate's operatic, spine-tingling howls. From the first seconds of The Overgrowth, it is perceivable how much the band continues to extend their limitless genre: a mischievous melange of Melora Creager's cello-driven Gothic tales, Tori Amos' vocal harmonies-turned-atonal, and the raw prowess of female rockers like early St. Vincent or PJ Harvey bundled up in a hailstorm brewed by powerful percussion.
Kate's quivering phrase endings showcase her splendid coloratura while she spews out dark lyrics full vicious imagery, "But can you hear her heart beat harder/ down by the dumpster?" in the song Brock. Lung denounce rape culture"She didn't want to go out that night with you/ She didn't want to go out that night with anyone darlin'" and desecrate, albeit metaphorically, the personhood of scot-free rapist Brock Turner in 2 minutes and 53 seconds of pure raging punk. As if conceived while in a state of numbness and remembrance, the track Butcher sounds like the aftermath of some gut-wrenching malady as Kate hums in a heavenly minor key-- her unearthly voice cleanses the wounds and her maniacal shrieks cauterize the soul. The rampant drum-pounding makes the exhilarating track Spiders throb loudly in your ears as the chaotic sound is stirred up by the doom-laden cello chords synchronized with feverish wails that spiral out of Kate's trachea. The band's stylistic fluidity extends throughout their entire masterpiece. Take the disturbing yet enchanting balladry of Gun- a slower song that speaks of the perceived fragility and defenselessness of women "Mother always said to bring a gun girl/ if it makes you feel better/ go to your apartment quick and lock the door so tight," she cautions, "if you can breathe, you're doing it wrong... Your mother told me wrong." The poignant string-plucking mutates into an elegant chamber-like legato all within three minutes of song, but this calmer pace is immediately interrupted by a cover of David Bowie's politically relevant, I'm Afraid of Americans (Lung wittily replace the name Johnny with, guess who? Donald). At this point, the outbursts of Lung's paranoiac sound reach rock stadium grandeur summoned by the hellish drums. The unnerving drum rolls narrate the whole affair in Horsebath as the percussive rattles punctuate the end of each melodic phrase, then you have Kate's macabre coo and her perilous question: "You think I'm crazy?/ I'll wring your neck right round." In Bodies of Water, there is yet again proof of a perfectly contrasting imagery, the singer compares a hurting woman to a tender dove who, although seemingly incapable of causing injury, can storm out of the peril and leave the assailant to drown in the turbulent waters of despair and oblivion. The musical rampage gushes up to the surface with the prowess manifested in ascending cello chords as the bombarding drums counteract the ascent with an increasingly raucous downward spiral of doom.
There is a swinging change in Fault, which sounds like something out of The Dresden Dolls' Vaudevillian punk songbook with it's haunting vocal trills and the deranged saw-like cello. Subhuman Nation is a dystopian nightmare hypercritical of the modern age. Its propelling and cyclically redundant cello mimic the mechanical rhythm of, well, all of us 8 to 5 human machines as Kate's sweet robotic voice (think Siri or Alexa) commands you to "Transport your body parts" in the intro; she follows,"And it's okay to die when you live without living/ plug me into your eyes/ give me something worth giving!" The creepy pop hooks make for some charmingly atypical rock- a minimal but hard rocking genre solely created by Lung. The title song begins with a somber and brutal basso continuo which later transforms into a twisted nursery rhyme packed with explosives in the form of Daisy's detonating bass drums & soul-shattering snares that destroy all the fairy tale impostors we read about in our childhoods- the chivalrous prince, the authoritative king, the wise fathers- all the upholders of patriarchalism floored by punk rebellion. "All the king's horses/ and all the king's men/ they are playing on playgrounds/ they got from their fathers," sings Kate as her voice graciously burns the putrefied fields of the patriarchy. In Madalena's Mask, the dark chords open like a baroque ballad which gently descends into a melodic psychosis drowning in devilish howls and demented lyrics. The internal chaos is fueled by the drums and the implosions within the song structure. The madness decelerates until Kate's deliriously sweet vocalizations bleed into the final song, Placeholder. An unexpected finale, the song proves again Lung's proficiency at what they do best: create colossal and potent music even when they play expressive cello-rock full of ethereal harmonies.
All The King's Horses is an explosive masterpiece that captures the rage and discomfort found in the post-2016 American politico-social environment. Lung hones these emotions as tools for use in their musical arsenal. From delirious and maniacal to all of a sudden soothing and enchanting, the album teeters on extremes- a raw portrayal of emotional turbulence of today. The album speaks from the perspective of the deceivingly powerless, yet conspicuously political who have weaponized vulnerability to create powerful sounds to be unleashed and blasted for the world to hear. Lung elevates punk rock music to unfathomable heights- they craft a timeless exploration of "power and powerlessness."