U2’s Joshua Tree is a sweeping, self-indulgent grand battleship of life-changing flight rock that has all the endless hope and purpose of a ’60s love revolution. It’s perfect and well-planned and inevitable, and it kills me how brave the thing is. But beneath those layers of bleeding hearts, wrenching melody and white soul there are bouncing, blipping, droning noises (hardly musical) that act as something of a backbone. You don’t notice them until they’re pointed out (watch the VH1 special on the making of the album where Brian Eno reveals himself to be what we knew he was all along: an alien). But once they are, they add a dimension of strange detachment; they make songs that are so god-awfully familiar sound off-center and unusual, and then, even more strangely, comfortable again.
I’d like to think Lymbyc Systym’s Love Your Abuser does the same thing, only backward. It’s all those bouncing, blipping, skittish (some droning) noises that actually drive the ideas, with the bits of organic instrumentation feeling oddly out of place. From the opening shimmers of “Rest Easy/Age Kindly” to the quiet ending of “. . . So We Can Sleep,” Love Your Abuser takes on a decidedly epic quality, balancing distorted electronics with cut-and-paste percussion, piano and horns. Welcome to thought-cloud, mountain-moving territory, instrumental music not because the words have been left out but because they have no business being there in the first place.
The background: Lymbyc Systym is brothers Jared and Michael Bell, who do the stuff I mentioned above through old keyboards and effects pedals but also laptops and actual playing. You’ll hear Love Your Abuser, their debut album, and think “Album Leaf!” Which makes sense, since Jimmy LaValle was an advisor to the project and contributed a beat and some guitar to the tracks. What makes less sense, however-given the kind of despondent glacier rock the Bells have latched onto-is that these guys are from hot-as-hell Arizona. (Tempe, to be exact, which you’ll recall was one of the cities terrorized by the Baseline Killer.)
This really has no bearing on anything. Love Your Abuser moves with the kind of deliberation suited for both a deep freeze and a blistering heat wave: everything is still and aching, and the record’s forty minutes feel one-and-a-half times as much. The title track takes forever (a minute and forty-one seconds) to build into something tangible; once it does, you want to poke it with a stick to see if it can go any faster. “Birds” does this, too, dragging along just enough to hold your attention then making up for lost time during the breakdowns with a sped-up drum tick.
Why the games? Because the beauty of Lymbyc Systym’s approach is in prolonging the payoff. It’s the squiggly lines that make the other colors pop, and there’s an ocean of squiggly lines here. When those payoffs finally arrive-like the pulsing thumps among the scattered knocks and wobbly keyboard notes in the wonderful “Fall Bicycle”-you’re indebted to something safe and comprehendible. But you’re also curious to see what it’s like to stay in the void, tempted to avoid rescue for the thrill of something new and foreign. “Pittsburgh Left” is a continent waiting to be inhabited (left alone?).
When I first sat down with Love Your Abuser, I thought, “What if someone took the soaring heartbreak of a band like the Arcade Fire, all that crushing nostalgia and everybody-gets-it-at-once communion, and just digitized it all?” I wasn’t that far off. Lymbyc Systym has something here and now and fleeting; there’s urgency in these songs and conviction in their power. It’s as if the Bells could simply throw it all away and not look back, and that would be a small tragedy. For us, I mean.