Music

Lord Huron: Strange Trails

Bringing a broader instrumental palette, more cinematic in scope than their debut, Lord Huron aims high and largely succeeds.


Lord Huron

Strange Trails

Label: IAMSOUND
US Release Date: 2015/04/07
UK Release Date: 2015/04/06
Amazon
iTunes

In discussing Lord Huron, it’s impossible to ignore the tonal similarities of lead vocalist Ben Schneider’s voice to that of Phosphorescent’s Matthew Houck, Fleet Foxes' Robin Pecknold and My Morning Jacket’s Jim James. Each possesses a similar timbre that seems to exist almost solely within the genre, becoming a prerequisite of sorts for those looking to play this very specific form of washed out, sepia-toned Americana. While heavy reverb certainly plays a role in the sound, there’s a certain grain in the voice of each, an affectation that functions as a sort of evolutionary trait inherited by those fated to front folky indie rock bands.

That having been said, with this, their second full length, Lord Huron succeed in meeting the requisite criteria of their most direct influences and have crafted an album sure to appeal to those enamored of the aforementioned groups. It’s a bold, declarative statement that finds the group brimming with deserved confidence and assurance.

From the outset, everything about Strange Trails feels bigger and more fully realized than their debut. Where that album, Lonesome Dreams, possessed a somewhat muted element of sameness in both its gauzy production and balladic tempos, an approximation of the title itself, Strange Trails finds the band moving in a number of stylistic directions that, coupled with their fuller, more assured sound, lends a weightiness to the album that helps imbue it with greater resonance.

On “Way Out There” Schneider sings, “If you think that I’ve changed/You know me not.” And in truth, little has changed for Lord Huron from a thematic standpoint. Tales of heartache, loneliness and ennui permeate these 14 tracks, adhering to the playbook of American folk tropes. But what has changed, and for the better, is their arrangements. Having beefed up their production and fleshed out their instrumentation, Strange Trails is a more substantial album than its predecessor. Where Lonesome Dreams relied largely on sparse, acoustic-centric arrangements, Strange Trails incorporates a host of acoustic and electric instruments, all lovingly swathed in a shimmering sheen of reverb; it’s the sound of a band having formed out of what had essentially started as a solo project.

From a narrative standpoint, the album functions as a Western, one that embodies the titular trails, a journey through wild lands in search of something (a better life, perhaps?) and finding all variety of trials and tribulations along the way. Characters spring to life, some quite literally (“Dead Man’s Hand”), wander aimlessly and rage in the face of impending death. It’s all rather tightly structured, necessitating several listens to fully sink in due in part to the sheer length and breadth of the material.

But throughout, there’s a greater accessibility to these songs, a more concentrated effort at broader appeal through stylistic variance and more focus on melodic hooks. “Until the Night Turns” possesses one of the strongest of these and, with it’s up-tempo feel, is a welcome departure from the more somnambulant tempos that dominated much of Lonesome Dreams. Virtually begging for broader commercial appeal, the song is built on an insistent beat and propulsive melody that breaks into a lovely almost-half time bridge that builds to a resolution back into an up-tempo shuffle before ending on a triumphant note. By adding to their sonic palette, Lord Huron begins to break free from the shadow of Fleet Foxes, et. al. and become a band in its own right, one worth any and all attention they may receive as a result.

Elsewhere they still rely a bit too heavily on familiarity to state their case. The chorus of “Louisa” bears a striking resemblance to “The Lion Sleeps Tonight”, while “Fool for Love” carries hints of both “I’m on Fire” and “Walk of Life” (not to mention their own “Time to Run”). By crafting songs built around snatches of existing melodies and established aesthetics, contemporary bands are better able to reach an existing audience quickly and easily, easing them into a familiar framework. But this essentially is a disservice to the listener as the band refuses to challenge, coming across as largely amenable and undeniably accessible. This approach, while largely successful, tends to lessen the overall impact an album might have, burdened by its derivative, uncomplicated nature.

At nearly an hour, Strange Trails tends to drag in its back half, the songs there largely slower retreads of those that have come before. For background music it is quite enjoyable, but under closer inspection much of the material simply doesn’t hold up. Because of this, Strange Trails is ultimately a somewhat exhausting listen due in part to its sheer scope and ambition. But like many great epic Westerns, it proves a rewarding, aesthetically satisfying artistic statement, one that requires a great deal of patience and investment to fully unfold. Those willing to make the investment will not be disappointed.

7


Music


Books


Film


Television


Recent
Books

Zadie Smith's 'Intimations' Essays Pandemic With Erudite Wit and Compassion

Zadie Smith's Intimations is an essay collection of gleaming, wry, and crisp prose that wears its erudition lightly but takes flight on both everyday and lofty matters.

Music

Phil Elverum Sings His Memoir on 'Microphones in 2020'

On his first studio album under the Microphones moniker since 2003, Phil Elverum shows he has been recording the same song since he was a teenager in the mid-1990s. Microphones in 2020 might be his apex as a songwriter.

Music

Washed Out's 'Purple Noon' Supplies Reassurance and Comfort

Washed Out's Purple Noon makes an argument against cynicism simply by existing and sounding as good as it does.

Music

'Eight Gates' Is Jason Molina's Stark, Haunting, Posthumous Artistic Statement

The ten songs on Eight Gates from the late Jason Molina are fascinating, despite – or perhaps because of – their raw, unfinished feel.

Film

Apocalypse '45 Uses Gloriously Restored Footage to Reveal the Ugliest Side of Our Nature

Erik Nelson's gorgeously restored Pacific War color footage in Apocalypse '45 makes a dramatic backdrop for his revealing interviews with veterans who survived the brutality of "a war without mercy".

Music

12 Brilliant Recent Jazz Albums That Shouldn't Be Missed

There is so much wonderful creative music these days that even an apartment-bound critic misses too much of it. Here is jazz from the last 18 months that shouldn't be missed.

Music

Blues Legend Bobby Rush Reinvigorates the Classic "Dust My Broom" (premiere)

Still going strong at 86, blues legend Bobby Rush presents "Dust My Broom" from an upcoming salute to Mississippi blues history, Rawer Than Raw, rendered in his inimitable style.

Music

Folk Rock's the Brevet Give a Glimmer of Hope With "Blue Coast" (premiere)

Dreamy bits of sunshine find their way through the clouds of dreams dashed and lives on the brink of despair on "Blue Coast" from soulful rockers the Brevet.

Music

Michael McArthur's "How to Fall in Love" Isn't a Roadmap (premiere)

In tune with classic 1970s folk, Michael McArthur weaves a spellbinding tale of personal growth and hope for the future with "How to Fall in Love".

Film

Greta Gerwig's Adaptation of Loneliness in Louisa May Alcott's 'Little Women'

Greta Gerwig's film adaptation of Louisa May Alcott's classic novel Little Women strays from the dominating theme of existential loneliness.

Music

The Band's Discontented Third LP, 1970's 'Stage Fright', Represented a World Braving Calamity

Released 50 years ago this month, the Band's Stage Fright remains a marker of cultural unrest not yet remedied.

Music

Natalie Schlabs Starts Living the Lifetime Dream With "That Early Love" (premiere + interview)

Unleashing the power of love with a new single and music video premiere, Natalie Schlabs is hoping to spread the word while letting her striking voice be heard ahead of Don't Look Too Close, the full-length album she will release in October.

Music

Rufus Wainwright Makes a Welcome Return to Pop with 'Unfollow the Rules'

Rufus Wainwright has done Judy Garland, Shakespeare, and opera, so now it's time for Rufus to rediscover Rufus on Unfollow the Rules.

Music

Jazz's Denny Zeitlin and Trio Get Adventurous on 'Live at Mezzrow'

West Coast pianist Denny Zeitlin creates a classic and adventurous live set with his long-standing trio featuring Buster Williams and Matt Wilson on Live at Mezzrow.

Film

The Inescapable Violence in Netflix's I'm No Longer Here (Ya no estoy aqui)

Fernando Frías de la Parra's I'm No Longer Here (Ya no estoy aqui) is part of a growing body of Latin American social realist films that show how creativity can serve a means of survival in tough circumstances.

Music

Arlo McKinley's Confessional Country/Folk Is Superb on 'Die Midwestern'

Country/folk singer-songwriter Arlo McKinley's debut Die Midwestern marries painful honesty with solid melodies and strong arrangements.

Music

Viserra Combine Guitar Heroics and Female Vocals on 'Siren Star'

If you ever thought 2000s hard rock needed more guitar leads and solos, Viserra have you covered with Siren Star.

Music

Ryan Hamilton & The Harlequin Ghosts Honor Their Favorite Songs With "Oh No" (premiere)

Ryan Hamilton's "Oh No" features guest vocals from Kay Hanley of Letters to Cleo, and appears on Nowhere to Go But Everywhere out 18 September.

Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews

Features
Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

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