With the Layaways’ release of More Than Happy in 2003, guitarist David Harrell showcased the broad scope of his musical influences by crafting a distinctive voice for the album. Melding a variety of sonic themes, Harrell drew immediate references to the Cure and the Jesus and Mary Chain as he echoed many of the finer aspects of ’90s Brit Pop. His approach was thoughtful and melodic, resulting in a satisfying debut recording and decidedly high hopes for the future. Now little more than a year later, the Layaways’ sound has matured into something increasingly special, with Harrell forsaking the one-man band approach by sharing vocal and writing chores with bassist Mike Porter.
We’ve Been Lost picks up where its predecessor left off, offering 11 tracks of breezy enjoyment, shedding the aforementioned comparisons as it is unencumbered by any of Robert Smith’s brooding or JaMC’s flair for often directionless experimentation. The album holds a precarious balance between Harrell’s and Porter’s contrasting singing styles, as the songs ebb and flow without overshadowing one another. Opening with the ironically titled “Silence”, Harrell conjures memories of Dream Academy’s “Northern Town” as he combines breathy vocals and distortion to envelop listeners and gently whisk them away. Similar results are achieved on the title track, as well as “The Answer” and “Every Time We Try”, as Harrell sings over a seamless tapestry of chiming guitars and unobtrusive percussion.
The sensual calm that Harrell creates is furthered by “The Long Night” with Porter assuming lead duties. The haunting quality of his vocals is accented by the precision of ringing chords, combining to form a light-hearted somberness that won’t elicit spontaneous weeping but rather a discernibly uncomfortable comfort. It is the kind of sad that somehow feels right. A similar sensibility is incorporated into “Nothing Left to Burn” as a subtle bass line gives way to a well placed guitar solo midway through, adding the ideal amount of energy to keep the song afloat.
The album takes an abrupt detour with “Lying and Stealing” and “Splendor and Loss” as each harkens back to Pete Townshend’s mid-’70s solo efforts. The former resembles material from the Rough Mix collaboration with Ronnie Lane; its carefully constructed guitar hooks make it a relaxing drive down a country road, yet it remains jaunty enough to prevent one from falling asleep at the wheel. The latter finds Porter losing himself somewhere in the acoustic splendor of “I’m One” and “Sheraton Gibson”.
The album is not without a pair of attractive surprises: “Just a Dream” melds acoustic folk with Oasis-like six-string pop to create something uniquely Layaways, while “Bombs Away” unapologetically shadows the Eagles’ “Lyin’ Eyes” with some obvious traces of the Beatles’ “Rocky Raccoon”.
After creating such an interesting aural panorama, Harrell closes We’ve Been Lost the same way he opened it, with equal helpings of fluidity and distortion, and just of hint of desperate yearning in his vocals. The elliptical album structure is nothing new to Layaways fans, as it brought More Than Happy full circle in a similar fashion.
The greatest value to We’ve Been Lost? Simply being what all good albums should strive for: A wonderfully crafted recording built around tasteful songwriting and musicianship without sounding heavy handed.