Lucas is said to have been inspired during one of Matt Mehlan’s long forays through corn country. His band of post-funk, junk percussion-playing tricksters crossed the flat red states and found them idyllic and very strange. Lucas, then, could be both a paradisical imagined town and the boy on the album cover who is bemused by it all. The songs, layered concoctions of rhythm and riff and odd scraps of verse, are about displacement as much as anything. They describe a puzzling All-American landscape of fake tits and people whispering behind your back and families packed into SUVs. “One thing’s for sure in this fucking place,” sings Mehlan. “It’s not that hard to disappear.”
This sense of not quite belonging seeps into the music as much as the words, with Mehlan and his dozen or so compatriots travelling through world-beat cadences and funk-soul flourishes without really living there. These are sweaty, immediate sorts of music that they’re mining – you can’t imagine James Brown or Fela Kuti being ironic about them – and yet the songs have a cool and shiny remove. The vocals never rise much above a whisper, slipping in and out of the mix, and the beat, though made partly of foot stomps and handclaps, is more a cerebral abstraction than a tribal circle. Funk elements – the twitchy wah wah of “Fake Tits,” the boot clomps of ‘What They Said” – are given clarity and emotional remove.
Mehlan is working with a much larger, more organic band here than he did in his previous Git (credited to Skeletons and the Girl-Faced Boys). Synth maestro Peter Blasser isn’t participating this time, nor is long-time collaborator and percussionist Severiano Martinez. Still, there is a more-than-full band of two guitars (both Tony Lowe and Jason McMahon are back from the last record), two drummers, bass and a horn section. As a result, Lucas feels like it’s painted on a much larger canvas than Git, with big squalling intervals of free-form jazz incorporated into the songs (“Hay W’Happens” and “Don’t Worry”). Yet even here, at its most over-the-top, the album has a sort of cool, intellectual restraint, a sense of unease and not quite fitting into the beats it crafts. It’s a thinking album, not a dancing album, its shifting layers of sound too complex for pure hedonistic release.
And yet, on its own semi-uncomfortable terms, Lucas is fascinating, its funk, jazz, world and soul elements colliding and caroming off one another in endless succession, its cool grooves streaming by like landscapes viewed from a moving car. There might be paradise in any of the places this album visits, just off the main road from established genres, but you get the sense that Mehlan and his crew don’t live there long enough to find out.