Note: NPR's First Listen audio comes down after the album is released. However, you can still listen with the Spotify or Apple Music playlist at the bottom of the page.
Luluc's Zoë Randell and Steve Hassett have now made three sweetly comforting albums together, filling each with frequently Nick Drake-ian folk music that's both disarmingly simple and, when called for, dreamily ornate. But Sculptor, the Australians' self-produced follow-up to 2014's wonderful Passerby, also broadens Luluc's palette and subject matter in rewarding ways. It helps that they've reached out to an impressive cadre of collaborators: The National's Aaron Dessner, who co-produced Passerby, here pops up as an occasional multi-instrumentalist, while the instantly recognizable drum patterns of The Dirty Three's Jim White help flesh out "Genius." (Speaking of instantly recognizable, that's J Mascis' guitar solo radiating in the distance in "Me and Jasper.")
Then there are the songs themselves. Many of Luluc's earlier tracks draw up simple but vivid sketches about travel, loneliness or the transformation that comes with a new season. But Sculptor adds a bit more tension to the mix, whether Rendell is lamenting the suffocating effects of a small-town echo chamber ("Me and Jasper") or the fragility of happiness and beauty ("Sculptor"). That decision to dig deeper was a wise next step for such wonderfully sure-footed dispensers of sonic comfort food: Without acknowledging trouble in the world around you, how can you begin to offer lasting respite?