2014 has been a busy year for a ghost from the 1980s. First came Light in the Attic’s resissue in May of the 1983 LP L’Amour, by the mysterious, apparently-untraceable figure called Lewis (supposed real name: Randall Wulff). Then in July, a second artifact was discovered in a warehouse: a 1985 album called Romantic Times, credited to Lewis Baloue. When Light in the Attic reissued that, they also claimed to have found the man himself, or at least someone who looks like a decades-older version of the suave gent who graced those ’80s album covers.
Even before that encounter, rumors circulated about more Lewis recordings, made under the name Randy Duke in the late ’90s at a studio near Vancouver called Fiasco Bros. An engineer named Len Osanic confirmed these were indeed by Lewis/Wulff, and recently released some of them digitally as a 12-track album called Love Ain’t No Mystery, later licensing them to Summersteps Records for a cassette with three additional songs. Since the voice on these tapes is unmistakably that of the man who made L’Amour and Romantic Times, and Osanic says the release is approved (he’s been friends with Wulff since the early ’00s), it seems fair to call this the third Lewis album.
In many ways, though, Love Ain’t No Mystery occupies a different universe than its predecessors. Where ’80s Lewis was smooth as silk—an enigmatic soft-rock savant—’90s Lewis is raw and direct. His subject matter is still love, but he’s shifted from seduction and romance to heartbreak and loss, and he wants to tell you about it without filters. Hence the music is much sparser: just voice and guitar, without the synths and beats that added texture to L’Amour and Romantic Times. Lewis’ singing retains a shy, retreating quality, but it’s much higher in the mix, and where his voice once could disappear, it now rarely takes breaks. He massages phrases obsessively and repeats lines like mantras, as if he can find answers by asking the same question over and over. (Osanic claims Lewis often spent hours making subtly different variations of songs, sitting silent for 10 minutes before starting each one.)
This tireless repetition, combined with the fact that Summersteps’ cassette lasts almost 90 minutes, makes Love Ain’t No Mystery an endurance test. Most songs cross the 6-minute mark and feel longer; at their most hypnotic, they’re as fascinating as infinity, but in other places they just feel endless. The closest parallel to Lewis’ approach here is the lonely, damaged blues of Jandek, or perhaps the stretched melodrama of later-period Scott Walker. But Lewis doesn’t venture as far out as either; he never sounds like he’s going off the deep end or even staring over its edge. Oddly, this makes Love Ain’t No Mystery prone to tedium, since there’s not a lot of unpredictability in terms of song structure. Once you hear the first few musical phrases of a given track, you pretty much know what you’re in for the rest of the way.
The many moods Lewis conjures with his vocals, however, are harder to peg. He continually pushes and pulls his voice until it quivers and cracks, abandoning conventional notions of pitch or melody if they get in the way of expressing emotion. But he also knows how to hold back, how to hint and suggest rather than yell, even when he’s not whispering. So the halting, vaporous “I Was Not Shy” takes an opposite angle from the hoarse, distorted blues of “I Come From Texas”, but both arrive at convincingly geniuine feelings.
The variety in Lewis’ singing is especially impressive given how close and unprotected it sounds. According to Osanic, Lewis set up mics “so he could ‘work’ them by moving closer and sideways as if he was whispering in someones ear,” and even wore a special shirt that made the least possible noise when he shifted around. (Stories like that make you understand why some suggest the whole Lewis story is a hoax.) But the relentless in-your-ear aura doesn’t limit Lewis’ ability to convey feelings; in fact, it seems to enhance it.
All that compelling emotion is what connects Love Ain’t No Mystery to L’Amour and Romantic Times, and shows their peculiar, mesmerizing accomplishments were no flukes. Those two previous records are stronger works: subtler, more complete, weaving vocals and music into a richer whole. But even when his tactics are more simplistic, Randy Wulff knows how to turn feelings into music, and that makes the discovery of Love Ain’t No Mystery a valuable one.
from Album Reviews – Pitchfork http://ift.tt/1x32SuC