The Olympia, WA-based quintet, LAKE, has always been twee, but over the three albums it has released, the band has gotten more and more lounge oriented. The sound of LAKE is familiar now: sunny Beach Boy influenced melodies, laidback delivery, and very calculated sparse instrumentation. Ultimately, it’s the arrangement that really makes LAKE good. The little touches, whether guitar, horn, or keyboard, come in at just the right moment to match the calculated innocence of the voice with the calculated maturity of the band’s musical thought.
LAKE announced their affinity for twee with their Dr. Seuss referencing first album title, Oh, The Places We’ll Go and the Belle and Sebastian referencing sound the band produced there. Eli Moore and Ashley Eriksson trade vocal duties and the new album finds them singing about kid stuff like wanting to be a song by Roger Miller and eating crackers and cheese. Eriksson has that consciously cultivated chanteuse voice, with her hard R’s and strange emphasis, that bespeaks a knowledge of ‘60s Yé-Yé or at least Stereolab.
Still, despite the happy pop sound, there is an undercurrent of sadness in the album’s lyrical content. The band references the “bummer” BP oil spill and the lyrics point to sustainability issues, such as the line on the title track lamenting the fact that “there used to be fish in the ocean”. They call it a cryptic nursery rhyme. Certainly there is a strange surface level of happiness in the songs that forebodes catastrophe.
The lounge elements of the album bring LAKE into a more adult genre. The music calls up the ‘60s era swinging music in its arrangements (or at least say the High Llamas rehash of this music), where every note colors perfectly inside the lines and provides the right shading for the song’s strict contours. Take, for example, the fuzzy and bright arpeggio that punctuates “One Small Step”, or for a more complex affair, the dual guitar intro to the next track, “Roger Miller”, that cues a horn line and then a percussive melody. These are sounds to ring in the minutes, sitting at an airport bar with a martini and thinking of sex with multiple partners.
In my mind, however, the twee takes the lead too often. In fact, LAKE’s constrained arrangement might signal the strange self-conscious affectation of childishness that comes with the indie mindset just as easily as it signals the masterful arrangement of studio musicians. Perhaps this is where LAKE’s uniqueness lies: in the mixture of DIY and professional aesthetics. But the overly stylized sound verges on the sterile.
As part of the K Records roster, LAKE has the collective mindset that characterizes the K approach. Eli Moore produced Giving and Receiving with the help of labelmate Karl Blau and the founder, Calvin Johnson. There are also a plethora of guests who contribute horns, vocals, percussion, and other elements. With all of these heads together, LAKE came up with a consistent offering that mixes the jet set and the local. I only wish they weren’t so damn cute about the whole thing.