PopMatters is moving to WordPress in December. We will continue to publish on this site as we work on the move. We aim to make it a seamless experience for readers.


Lost in the Trees: Past Life

Lost in the Trees always seems to be changing, and the group's third record, Past Life, is its most daring and dynamic shift yet, an album that can both carry the long shadow of the past and pump the hot blood of the here and now.

Lost in the Trees

Past Life

US Release: 2014-02-18
UK Release: 2014-02-17
Label: Anti-

Many a band with big, expansive, heavily orchestrated sounds have fallen victim to constant expansion, to trying to stretch past their already epic means. Even on their folkier debut, All Alone in an Empty House, Lost in the Trees was pushing its borders with neo-classical flourishes. The beautiful and sad A Church That Fits Our Needs, a tribute to frontman Ari Picker's late mother, meshed those two sides of the band's sound into something even grander, even more atmospheric.

Past Life, the new third record, avoids a sonic arms race with its predecessors and instead peels the layers back. If those albums rose out of folk and orchestral influences, Past Life leans closer to electronic flourishes, lean rock, and power-pop structures. For the album, Picker pared back the band's usual sextet to a quartet, and the results are refreshing and solid, a convincing and inventive about-face for the band and a new direction that feels like it has a lot of miles to explore.

It's also a thematic move away from the pervasive loss of the previous two records. There is a shadowy feel to this song, and loss and mortality are not gone, but Picker's relationship to them has changed. Opener "Excos" finds Picker talking about "spreading my ashes to the wind", invoking death and loss right up front. But this moment is one of possible closure, of the first next step. This isn't a dwelling on what isn't, but what could be. "All I want is your heart," he insists over shuffling percussion and sweeping sounds, as if they were blowing the ashes away, rejoining them with some meaningful corner of the world. On the title track, Picker claims "death is just a staircase" as he reaches for light. There's much talk of tomorrow, of talking in the future or meeting in the next life ("Lady in White"), or of the sustaining hope found in a spouse asleep next to you ("Glass Harp"). Even when the album closer, "Upstairs", finds Picker "stumble[ing] through the dark", it is in a familiar place, a home, and it is not a stumble of the lost but a stumble of someone hoping to find.

And so the album doesn't move on so much as it accepts some loss as preamble to what comes next. Water is constantly rising in these songs, but boats don't rise with the tide here; instead these voices adapt. So, too, does the music. The sound is far more percussion-driven, more spare, than the past records, but it still delivers a similar beauty. The strange and exciting thing about Past Life, though, is how these odd elements mesh. If the overall effect of these songs is intimate, sublime, even dreamy, the individual elements are often far more scuffed. "Past Life" is built on jagged guitar fills that expand into frustrated, distorted grinds. The stillness of "Lady in White" is tilted by deeply funky bass lines. "Daunting Friend" contrasts the wide-open string arrangements with razor-thin guitar hooks. "Wake" juxtaposes similar strings with rumbling bass, squealing guitars, and horror-flick piano keys. All around these songs, shadowy space stretches out, not haunting so much as inviting, unknown. The rhythm section is what sells all of this. It propels the songs forward, even gives them a lively yet muscled shuffle. The electronic flourishes here are spare but also key, highlighting the clean rhythms and making the other instruments sound more vital, more alive, instead of coated in an inorganic drone.

Past Life is a controlled but never too controlled affair, a great pop-rock record from a band treading new ground. Lost in the Trees has always been in a state of change, and yet every piece of music they drop along the ways feels fully formed, never transitional. This is their most daring and dynamic shift yet, an album that can both carry the long shadow of the past and pump the hot blood of the here and now. On Past Life, Picker may not be totally sure what's coming next, but he and the band sound ready to find out.


Please Donate to Help Save PopMatters

PopMatters have been informed by our current technology provider that we have until December to move off their service. We are moving to WordPress and a new host, but we really need your help to fund the move and further development.





Artemis Is the Latest Jazz Supergroup

A Blue Note supergroup happens to be made up of women, exclusively. Artemis is an inconsistent outing, but it dazzles just often enough.


Horrors in the Closet: A Closet Full of Monsters

A closet full of monsters is a scary place where "straight people" can safely negotiate and articulate their fascination and/or dread of "difference" in sexuality.


'Wildflowers & All the Rest' Is Tom Petty's Masterpiece

Wildflowers is a masterpiece because Tom Petty was a good enough songwriter by that point to communicate exactly what was on his mind in the most devastating way possible.


Jazz Composer Maria Schneider Takes on the "Data Lords" in Song

Grammy-winning jazz composer Maria Schneider released Data Lords partly as a reaction to her outrage that streaming music services are harvesting the data of listeners even as they pay musicians so little that creativity is at risk. She speaks with us about the project.


The 100 Best Albums of the 2000s: 100-81

PopMatters' best albums of the 2000s begin with a series of records that span epic metal, ornate indie folk, and a terrifying work of electronic music.


The Power of Restraint in Sophie Yanow, Paco Roca, and Elisa Macellari's New Graphic Novels

The magical quality that makes or breaks a graphic novel lies somewhere in that liminal space in which art and literature intersect.


'People of the City' Is an Unrelenting Critique of Colonial Ideology and Praxis

Cyprian Ekwensi's People of the City is a vivid tale of class struggle and identity reclamation in the shadows of colonialism's reign.


1979's 'This Heat' Remains a Lodestone for Avant-Rock Adventure

On their self-titled debut, available for the first time on digital formats, This Heat delivered an all-time classic stitched together from several years of experiments.


'The Edge of Democracy' and Parallels of Political Crises

Academy Award-nominated documentary The Edge of Democracy, now streaming on Netflix, lays bare the political parallels of the rise of Bolsonaro's Brazil with Trump's America.


The Pogues' 'The BBC Sessions 1984-1986' Honors Working-Class Heroes

The Pogues' BBC Sessions 1984-1986 is a welcome chapter in the musical story of these working-class heroes, who reminded listeners of the beauty and dignity of the strong, sooty backs upon which our industrialized world was built.


Mary Halvorson Creates Cacophony to Aestheticize on 'Artlessly Falling'

Mary Halvorson's Artlessly Falling is a challenging album with tracks comprised of improvisational fragments more than based on compositional theory. Halvorson uses the various elements to aestheticize the confusing world around her.


15 Overlooked and Underrated Albums of the 1990s

With every "Best of the '90s" retrospective comes a predictable list of entries. Here are 15 albums that are often overlooked as worthy of placing in these lists, and are too often underrated as some of the best records from the decade.


'A Peculiar Indifference' Takes on Violence in Black America

Pulitzer Prize finalist Elliott Currie's scrupulous investigation of the impacts of violence on Black Americans, A Peculiar Indifference, shows the damaging effect of widespread suffering and identifies an achievable solution.


20 Songs From the 1990s That Time Forgot

Rather than listening to Spotify's latest playlist, give the tunes from this reminiscence of lost '90s singles a spin.


Delightful 'Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day' Is Good Escapism

Now streaming on Amazon Prime, Bharat Nalluri's 2008 romantic comedy, Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day, provides pleasant respite in these times of doom and gloom.


The 10 Best Horror Movie Remakes

The horror genre has produced some remake junk. In the case of these ten treats, the update delivers something definitive.


Flirting with Demons at Home, or, When TV Movies Were Evil

Just in time for Halloween, a new Blu-ray from Kino Lorber presents sparkling 2K digital restorations of TV movies that have been missing for decades: Fear No Evil (1969) and its sequel, Ritual of Evil (1970).


Magick Mountain Are Having a Party But Is the Audience Invited?

Garage rockers Magick Mountain debut with Weird Feelings, an album big on fuzz but light on hooks.

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.