Lord Huron – Strange Trails & Songs from the Unknown
By Gia Vescovi-Chiordi
Strange Trails is like a class project that your overachieving yet endearing classmate finished on time, presenting it with verve as you watched from the back row, steeped in equal parts envy and elation. Assuming that class held the likes of Fleet Foxes, Father John Misty, Sea Wolf, Delta Spirit and maybe a handful of other reverb-soaked Americana based indie folk outfits. Right off the bat this is me recognizing the evident parallels between most of the groups that fit into this neat little genre – and by no means has Lord Huron (originally the solo project of Ben Schneider, now expanded to include Mark Barry, Miguel Briseño and Tom Renaud) changed the world. But they create their own – and however one feels about the originality of it, this is a fantastic thing.
Going well beyond the music spectrum is not new for Lord Huron, who in a laudable Vonnegut-esque move created debut album Lonesome Dreams based around a dismissed Western adventure novelist of frontman Ben Schneider’s creation, who shared the titles of his (conveniently out of print) novels with the tracks of the album. This immersive, multi-faceted approach has been applied to Strange Trails – a more fulfilled and fully realized conception, crafted around the adventure ideal but expanded with the use of pulp and retro horror sensibility with a smattering of Sci-fi to boot. (Schneider studied visual art and had a hand in the comic book influenced cover work). Though Lord Huron didn’t have the means to actually embark on filming a feature length film, they created a lush soundscape where men rise from the dead, washed up rockabilly singers abound and a greaser attends a party for the apocalypse. Coupled with accompanying music videos of epic proportions (and kick-ass slow motion bar fights) with styles borrowed from the likes of Tarantino and The Outsiders combined with some snarky satire, but the point isn’t to be new – it’s Lord Huron’s take on an imaginative homage mixed with personally inspired imagination.
Lyrically, Schneider knows his way around a pen, writing succinctly earnest yet wrenching lyrics, honest and supernatural at the same time, delivered with a spacious and direct vocal style that conveys heartache, hope and some serious flaws (‘There aint language for the things I feel, and if I can’t have you then no one ever will’). Musically, Strange Trails shares a bevy of similarities with Lonesome Dreams. Animated arrangements and airy melodies provide a solid backbone for the sumptuous narratives, but had Schneider not been able to fully realize these tracks vocally and lyrically, they might have struck a repetitive chord both literally and figuratively.
Personally, I look at this album as a truly transportive one, but I’m the type of person who can’t turn away from a lavishly chronicled, emotional spectacle that’s tinged with old West flavor. (What can I say – I hail from the desert). I cared about the characters even if I didn’t understand them; I contemplated the journey (both dead and alive) of each and in turn it made me wonder about my own, throwing into light the stark truth that all struggle stems from the same place. Finishing the album is like closing a book, with the videos hitting like a favorite old film. Strange Trails is a rollicking enterprise that canvasses the entire emotional spectrum, closing with ‘The Night We Met’, a song so successfully heart wrenching it’s almost hard to listen to. It summons recollections of all the heartbreak that’s ever been experienced by every person I’ve ever known, myself included. So a simultaneous bravo and go to hell from me to Lord Huron. Fin/End Scene.