Lullabye Arkestra are a bass and drum duo who’ve been playing and self-releasing glorious slabs of distorto-soul for many years. Formed in Toronto by Justin (drums) and Katia (bass), the Ark has played shows as a duo and as a large band, adding horns, voices and organ. Their slow, swampy, overdriven cover of “Summertime” was an early signature tune, along with a clutch of original rave-ups ranging from one-minute combustions of riffage and hollering to longer, fuzzed-out R&B numbers, often marked by sincere but sassy boy/girl call-and-response vocals.
Even without a global recession, Lullabye were due for a downsizing; lacking the means to tour with their auxiliary members, the duo found themselves with an album they could barely recreate live as a two-piece. No such problem with the band’s Vice debut, Threats/Worship, on which the duo fill in any empty space by loading up on the sort of devastating drop-D riffs that have powered every great bass/drums two-piece from godheadSilo to Death From Above 1979, and screaming their lungs out. If Ampgrave lent Lullabye’s tortured soul a B-movie, haunted-house ambiance, Threats/Worship is pure grindhouse grit– ugly, brutal, yet thrilling as all hell.
And yet, even with the stripped-down set-up and brief, 36-minute run time, Threats/Worship still feels weighty and substantial, thanks to an epic, Black Flag-burning introduction, “Get Nervous”, that effectively welcomes us into their nightmare and showcases the duo’s ability to shift gears between slow-motion sludge and high-speed hysterics. Lullabye Arkestra know that, given their low overhead, the slightest dynamic variations go a long way– the subtle synth swirls lurking in the background of circle-pit stoker “Surviving the Year of Wolves” (featuring guest barking from ex-Cursed frontman Chris Colohan); the Tony Iommi accents that punctuate the fist-pump chorus of “We Fuck the Night”; the echo-effected vocals and hypnotic riff repetition that inject “Fog Machine” with a psychedelic expanse; the surprise ending of “This Is a Storm”, which fools us into thinking it’s fading out before returning for one last, Carrie-style scare.
Where there was once a cheeky quality to the Smalls’ vocal interplay– part Ike and Tina, part Mickey and Mallory– Threats/Worship doesn’t play up any kind of he-said/she-said sexual tension. Rather, their unison, hoarse-voice howls convey a genuine, shared feeling of release and solidarity. This is no more apparent than on “Voodoo”, a rerecording of the first song the Smalls ever wrote together– when the duo start maniacally shrieking, “baby baby baby!” you’re not sure if they want to have one or eat one. Clocking in at just 44 seconds, the song both heralds Lullabye’s return to their original two-piece formation, while also serving as a signpost for how much they’ve evolved. The lesson here: The couple that stays together slays together.