Left With Pictures are an orchestral pop ensemble from London. Formed in 2005, they started with three hard-up, classically trained musicians who forsook the orchestra pit for the sanctuary of their keyboard player’s loft. Armed with synths, guitars, strings, kazoos, found-sounds and a shoestring budget, they began with a series of self-releases and impromptu performances in theatres, bars and bedrooms.
In 2008 LWP signed to Organ Grinder Records – with whom they have released two albums, Beyond Our Means (2009) and 2011’s In Time, an album consisting of 12 songs which were released monthly and premiered by Gideon Coe on BBC 6 Music. Over 10 years the band has won critical praise, expanded their live sound, and steadily refined their craft of inventive pop music, where the acoustic and the electronic are intricately combined. Afterlife – their first release in five years – is the result of a band evolving, and pulling apart their sound in order to explore their own innate creativity, much of which can be attributed to the appointment of Richard Formby (Wild Beasts, Ghostpoet, Darkstar, Hood) as producer.
Formby acted as a sounding board and as a voice to challenge any comfort zones the band may slip back into after 10 years together, as Tom Walker explains: “Richard’s job as producer was often to gently unpick what we’d done and refocus it. He encouraged us to change arrangements in the studio –often stripping parts away and leaving a broader, more cinematic sound. Richard is a master of vintage equipment – modular synths, old organs, tape delays, etc. – and he always had ideas about which sounds to use and how to distort, bend and re-imagine the music we made.”
In many ways it’s the sound of a band reborn, which is fitting when considering their subject matter. Much of what appears on Afterlife very frankly concerns endings, death and renewal – themes which evolved over the course of the writing and recording process. Bloody Mess doesn’t mince its words with the line “I don’t know what my body will to do me today / I’m scared to go to sleep tonight.” before the album’s lead track Terra Firma (a song very plainly about dying) climaxes in a kind of folktronic, symphonic soup, bolstered by gently swelling strings, ghostly church-pew background vocals and a gorgeous looped synth motif, all preceded by the contemplative lyric “It’s easy to go on without a life you know nothing about, when you spend your days at the water’s edge.”
Indeed, from the lonely nostalgic hum of Last Man On Earth (“Should I hang my St Christopher over the dash? / and find my way back”), through Long Lane’s Elliott Smith ode, to the chilling album closer The Night Watch (“all who love you will be here”), Afterlife is a much more lived-in, otherworldly, and more cohesive body of work that anything the band have done before.