Post-apocalyptic. That’s how one could describe the mood and feeling of Beings, the third album from Newcastle indie band Lanterns on the Lake. These ten songs reflect a world that has been torn apart, crushed underfoot, and ravaged by injustice. But there aren’t any loud explosions here, no violent recriminations. The dust has settled, and capitulation has given way to a strange sense of beauty amid restlessness, hope amid chaos.
This is heady territory, for sure, but it represents how far Lanterns on the Lake have come in a relatively short time. Their debut, Gracious Tide Take Me Home, (2011) dealt in lush, dreamy folk-pop, while Until the Colours Run (2014) added an ethical and political awareness that was complemented by a bigger, tougher sound that embraced the evocative power of guitar effects and skyscraping arrangements. Beings is something of an amalgamation, a set of mostly slower, intimate songs rendered with a broad, layered sonic canvas. This music rolls in like a mist off the Tyne.
The lineup has changed yet again, but the core of singer/guitarist/pianist Hazel Wilde, guitarist/producer Paul Gregory, and drummer Oliver Ketteringham remains intact. If anything, the slimmer lineup has sharpened the band’s focus. Bits of static and found sound open the album, a broadcast making its way through a barren landscape, perhaps. “Of Dust & Matter” is as visceral as its title, an ominously tolling piano clearing the way for Wilde’s survival manifesto. “In my greatness I vow to destroy all I am / It brings out the best in me,” she says, her voice making Siouxsie Sioux-like swoops as overdriven, martial drums and erupting keyboards overtake it. Much like the rest of Beings, it’s initially unnerving but ultimately comforting.
On “I’ll Stall Them”, Ketteringham’s gentle, syncopated rhythm is a familiar Lanterns on the Lake sound, but sympathetic live brass adds a new element of sophistication. Lyrically, the song continues the themes of individual defiance and expression. “This city is a dogfight,” Wilde claims, “I wanna walk with the brave.”
At first, these highly-textured, atmosphere-driven songs may seem to fade into the ether. The chiming guitar hooks and rollicking jams of Lanterns on the Lake’s previous work are all but absent, replaced by piano rhythms and swelling effects. The band is signed to Bella Union, the label run by ex-Cocteau Twin Simon Raymonde, and Beings more than its predecessors recalls the more amorphous, abstract sound of Raymonde’s former band. On the title track, for example, Gregory’s guitar is stretched out to shoegaze proportions. “Stepping Down”, the album’s most sonically impressive track, seems to be made from little more than muffled wind noise and a sampler.
There is form and structure here, too. Lead single “Faultlines” is a positive shot of energy. The central piano arpeggio is underpinned by a forceful, almost disco rhythm and emphatic playing from new bassist Bob Allan. If anything, Beings might have done with just a little more of that direct energy. “Stuck for an Outline” is the most traditionally folky track, bearing the Celtic colors the band has flashed before.
The overall tone combined with the dynamic, loud-quiet-loud arrangements could lead some listeners to believe Lanterns on the Lake have gotten a bit high-minded. Like the best sonic explorers before them, though, they’ve earned the right. Beings presents a band growing, progressing, and challenging itself without losing its sense of identity. And, like the best pop art, it speaks directly to current times while transcending them as well. It’s not to be missed.