LNZNDRF (pronounced “Lan-zen-dorf”) relish their side project status. The vowel-phobic trio, made up of The National’s Devendorf brothers and Ben Lanz of Beirut, giddily absorb sounds and genres that would not be so easily permitted in their day jobs, without straying too far from what they know. Their self-titled debut is a misfit cousin of the National’s subdued, anthemic rock that embraces insistent motorik rhythms and sleepy psychedelia to give the sense of a band enjoying their time playing in the margins, luxuriating in a wider scope but in no way dissatisfied with their established aesthetic.
The band was formed and, by the sounds of it, named hastily in 2011, jamming for half an hour as the last-minute support act at a National gig in Auckland, and their debut album came to being in much the same vein. Recorded over two days in a church in the Devendorfs’ native Cincinnati, LNZNDRF’s eight songs came into focus out of extended improvisation and experimentation. The album has a looseness and informality about it, and all its random interjections, surreal interludes, lackadaisical editing make it feel emergent – a discovery rather than a curated work.
Lanz and bassist Scott Devendorf provide some vocals, but LNZNDRF goes wordless for long stretches, and without an obvious focal point, Bryan Devendorf’s drums take centre stage, no longer secondary to the Matt Berninger put-upon baritone. He is dexterous and powerful, but his work always seems like an exercise in restraint, a sacrifice in service of a uniform whole. The Devendorf of LNZNDRF doesn’t exactly sound unfettered, but there’s much more room for him to flourish while still forming a sturdy percussive backbone.
‘Future You’ builds from a gale of wispy guitars and feedback into a powerful rock voyage on the strength of Devendorf’s driving percussion. He provides the catalytic beat and then eventually spins off, unleashing several impressive rolls and fills, taking the lead from Lanz and brother Scott, and then moving up to top gear. What starts off as a late-night drive becomes a joyride down a deserted Autobahn.
A similar trick Is pulled on ‘Beneath the Black Sea’, and it’s only slightly less effective, freshened up by Lanz’s rueful vocal. It’s a plaintive, reflective track (“You watch another slip away / It’s you”) that deceives with a hint of warm brass, rippling guitars and bass and another thunderous drumming performance.
The slow-burning ‘Mt Storm’ with its enveloping, churning lead guitar serves to smother the momentum of the two opening tracks, but ‘Kind Things’, the album’s first sub-four-minute track, takes things in a whole other direction. The gargling vocal and delirious chorus give it a very mid-00s Flaming Lips feel. It’s slight but bolstered by harmonies and late-coming brass; the methodical build is confirmed as what’s most important to LNZNDRF – record and band. However, the album’s second half embraces the trio’s weirdest impulses wholeheartedly.
‘Stars and Time’ is a smorgasbord of offcut oddities disseminated in one quick jolt, and while ‘Hypno-Skate’ is perhaps the most Nationalesque track on the album, it finds room for some hurdy gurdy synths and refuses to be subdued in the name of good taste.
It’s no coincidence that Bryan Devendorf largely secedes in favour of programmed drums for the closing tracks; his strong, efficient style would not easily coexist with such aimless noodling. His more diffuse percussion serves ‘Monument’ well. It’s sweet and woozy with heavily vocodered vocals, complimented by tired, wilting guitars that lead into a resplendent yet all too brief climax.
The record’s merge on closer ‘Samarra’, which helpfully surveys all that has come before it. Eschewing Beirut’s ethnomusicologist folk entirely, this is an album that takes a sideways view of the National’s well-worn template, expanding it in directions ambient, propulsive and wilfully strange.
Everything is slightly refracted and a bit off. It’s a bizarre version of The National that is only fleetingly bizarre, but there’s still a lot to like.