Lord Huron, 'Lonesome Dreams'
Many among us assert that folk is dead. A vocal minority has grown tired of the revival kickstarted by the likes of Conor Oberst and Sam Beam, claiming the indie folk movement has begun to implode. It’s become derivative of itself, it’s going out of style, paving the way for electronic wunderkinds like James Blake to usurp the throne once occupied by Justin Vernon.
But these last two years have been infused with resistance to this false death knell. Bands as disparate as Fleet Foxes and the Mountain Goats have released new albums declaring folk’s continuing and powerful presence. New on the scene is Lord Huron, and the movement should be glad to have them.
The band is fronted by Ben Schneider, a guy who must have spent countless hours spinning his parents’ Graceland LP unstoppably as a youth. Paul Simon’s spectral influence looms just beneath the surface of almost every track on their new album, Lonesome Dreams. This charge of Simon is intriguing and subtle, though, as you won’t find much of the African harmonies that made Simon’s work so famous in the 80s. It’s more the rhythm of the saints and the hopeful lyrics Simon is so fond of that you’ll find here; Schneider is never content to rest with an acoustic guitar, instead heading for hills populated by nearly nautical tones accompanied by percussive hits on instruments aplenty.
The album opens with “Ends of the Earth,” and one cannot help but think Schneider’s goal is to take us to the world’s terminating point and prove it’s not so bad after all. The high-pitched vocals kicking off the track steer clear of shrillness or even predictable comparisons to the great indie falsettos of our day (see James Mercer of The Shins). If anything, Schneider sounds more like Panda Bear from Animal Collective than anyone else, only surrounded by straightforward lyrics and penetrable music. Out there’s a land / That time don’t command / I wanna be the first to arrive, he sings. To the ends of the earth, won’t you follow me / There’s a world that was meant for us to see.
A line like that is what you need for an album opener—and for a first LP. It has to be an ambitious invitation, an almost jealous appeal for the listener to come along.
You just have to have the goods to back it up.
But there’s a place for songs that may not get at the unfortunate shortcomings of interpersonal relationships because songs like these can push the listener to love and live better overall. They fuel us with hope that one day these lyrics may be more than wishful thinking, may encourage us to be more overcome with love.
I have been trying to find her, wanna give what I got / She lit a fire and now she’s in my every thought, goes the couplet on album centerpiece, “She Lit a Fire.” Where could that girl have gone? / Where? I’ve wandered far / Where could that girl have gone? / She left no trail but I cannot fail, I will find her.
This is a man who knows no defiance and no slowing down. He’s writing lyrics unaffected by the modernist sentiments of men like Ernest Hemingway. “You are as in love as you think you are!” he seems to make his goal of conveying throughout the album. “Don’t let your own guilt, your own cynical convictions keep you from scaling mountaintops, rushing through forests to head for what you love and what you need.”
What Lord Huron seems to be getting at more than anything else is what love would be like, should our hearts be redeemed from their own contradictions and their succumbing to the wages of sin and selfishness.
It’s an album to be played on jagged crags, jutting forth in glory before a roaring ocean. It’s the sound of a young sailor before he departs for the uncertainty of the sea, of Jim Hawkins before the days of Long John Silver.
Though Schneider allows for uncertainty and fear, these are not considered paralyzing. Instead, they are overcome by the hope and love he seems hellbent on getting his listeners to recognize. And recognize it we do. When optimistic messages come packaged with guitars sounding like they were recorded in a grotto in the Caribbean, how can we do otherwise?