Loch Lomond: When We Were Mountains

Jason MacNeil

Loch Lomond

When We Were Mountains

Label: In Music We Trust
US Release Date: 2003-11-11
UK Release Date: Available as import

This band contains members of the Standard, a fine rock band whose latest release, Wire Post to Wire, would have fans of Placebo salivating immediately. But don't expect the same type of music on this project. Ritchie Young and Rob Oberdorfer decided to try this little side project out with two others from Portland, namely Ryan Cross and Kate O'Brien. The result is what some critics have titled as "cut 'n' paste electronic", but it's not all as simple as that. A lot of these tunes are very challenging to listen to, but in an eclectic kind of way. The haunting back beat begins "Stripe" like Nine Inch Nails, but the strings and lush orchestration turn it into a psychedelic Moody Blues-like number. The string section is particularly strong on the track while the vocals, at times stretched too thin, blend well with the melancholic feeling. "It's a speed of what's to come / It tears me apart", the singer states, bringing to mind the Smashing Pumpkins at their most vulnerable. Unfortunately, they don't like to let a good thing go easily, making the ending a bit tedious.

You get the impression both Young and Oberdorfer spent a lot of time sifting through their record collection with these new songs. "The Mountain" is a classic '70s rock format, with the vocals eerily resembling Supertramp's Roger Hodgson. The acoustic guitar and lithe backing vocals create a dreamy Syd Barrett vibe as the song ambles along easily. It's also a song that the late Elliott Smith would've nailed in his sleep. Thankfully they never stray from the blueprint, resulting in a leisurely folk pop effect. But this stops in its tracks with a tougher, grittier ambient texture on "Sir Edmund", falling in line with Depeche Mode circa Ultra. Loch Lomond miss the mark on this song, as it just seems to float along aimlessly without much substance or direction. By the conclusion, you want to put it out of its own misery or, to coin a phrase from the lyrics, remove its oxygen tank.

More effects are brought out, including seagulls squawking or some similar noise, for the Schroeder-like piano opening to "Canadian Shield". The high notes in the opening verse are nearly comical as they are definitely out of grasp here, sounding like a junior high school choir. The creepy give-and-take vocals are perhaps its biggest strength before it goes into a dirge-like rock coda. "I'd like to tell you about the strangest secret in the world", a voice says to start "Whatafall", possibly the record's highlight. Tension built à la Tool, the song builds and builds but never actually cuts through, brimming underneath as a frantic piano weaves in and out. It's as if they tried to create their own mini-opus from Bowie's Outside. However, the following stab at pretentiousness falls flat on its face. "Sourire" is performed partially in French but isn't able to make any inroads.

Nonetheless, though, after the instrumental "He's Never Seen the Ocean", Loch Lomond pick things up quite a bit for an improved and invigorating homestretch. Again the tension comes to the fore on "Del Fuego", which features vocals from the Standard's Tim Putnam. A lot of things are going on in the song, but there is a sweetness to the track which shines through. It's very much like a latter day song from the Cure as someone talks about jumping out the window. Another asset is that it seems fully focused and wraps up a little over three minutes later. "Salt the Air", a sparse acoustic tune that includes evolves into a standard swaying pop rock melody, something that is the exception to the rule on the record. The fragile vocals work wonders also. "This Year of Our Lord" concludes the album the same way it opened up -- minimal but very ambitious at the same time. It might not whet all appetites, but it's still a strong offering for most.

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