By Toussaint Egan
A lot of things can happen in six years.
Little People is the moniker of UK based downtempo electronic musician Laurent Clerc who released his first album, Mickey Mouse Operation, over six years ago. Shortly before its release, Laurent was already being touted by some critics as the successor to the darkly cinematic hip-hop sound of DJ shadow. But after a middling commercial reception due to poor promotion and his own growing dissatisfaction with sample-based production, he withdrew from the world of music, and his debut album became another promising but undervalued trinket lost in the depths of the Internet.
That is, until the custom music radio site Pandora began hosting it on their website. Laurent’s music career had rightfully earned its second wind, quickly but quietly gaining a growing new audience of followers that culminated with Mickey Mouse Operation climbing into the Top 30 list of iTunes’ Electronic Music purchases. The Internet had spoken; they wanted a new album. But where was the man behind the music?
After a meticulously slow return to the spotlight, improving upon the missteps of the past with extensive touring and promotion alongside some of the most well-known figures in the downtempo electronic music scene, Little People has returned with his sophomore follow-up, We Are But Hunks of Wood.
Right away the opening track from We Are But Hunks of Wood, “Marzipan Children”, does so much to differentiate this album from its predecessor, having more in common with the slow building scatter-shot playfulness of electronic music maestros The Avalanches than with the aforementioned DJ Shadow.
Shying away from the persistent thumping drum loops and snare snap that defined the sound of the first album, not to mention the absence of nearly any preexisting sampled material; We Are But Hunks of Wood instead embraces a broader pallet of sounds with the use of more diverse musical elements such as heavy electronic-centric loops, xylophone recordings, and luscious sweeping string arrangements.
The album continues to impress with tracks such as the beautifully mournful “Eminence Grise”, the addictively fast paced “Cartouche”, and the epic lo-fi hero’s journey that is “Aldgate Patterns“. None of the songs on this album hit with quite the force or immediacy as some of the better songs off of Mickey Mouse Operation, but rather choose to carefully build and crafts themselves into a series of impressive crescendo moments.
When I first heard that Little People was going to largely abstain from sampling in producing his second album, I was naturally a bit concerned. So many of the nuances that I had found so distinct and attractive in Mickey Mouse Operation seemed to have come directly out of his adept skill in the selection and repurposing of preexisting material. Would this album see a smaller variety of sounds and suffer because of it? I can happily say that those fears are completely put to rest. The album as a whole resonates with a diversity and range of sounds that leaves every track feeling distinct enough to be separate but just enough alike to form cohesively as a whole.
Songs like “Wonderland” , which features the only dedicated vocal performance in January Thompson, and “MakeMeBetter” are where the album really hits its stride before hitting a noticeable lull in the progressiveness of the songs overall. “Electrickery”, “Offal Waffle”, and “M.N.O.P.Q” are nice enough tracks by themselves, but playing them back to back reveals an undercurrent of sameness and safety that just doesn’t match up well with the rest of the album. Fortunately, “Farewell” and “Underland” bring the action back to center field and feel like welcomed throwbacks to Mickey Mouse Operation before tying the album up together nicely in the end.
Despite whatever minor flaws, We Are But Hunks of Wood truly remains a mock-plunderphonic masterpiece; the second take in the exciting introduction of a wildly talented musician. With this release Laurent Clerc has vaulted out of the shadow of his musical forebears, inched that much closer out of his comfort zone, and become that much better of an artist because of it.
How appropriate that this album should come out in the fall; It’s the perfect soundtrack to turning over a new leaf.
Standout Tracks: Marzipan Children, Cartouche, Aldgate Patterns, MakeMeBetter, Underland
Overall Score: 8 out of 10
Below is a comparison of two Little People tracks, “Moon” from Mickey Mouse Operation and “Aldgate Patterns” from We Are But Hunks of Wood, links provided by the artist’s own soundcloud account.