Recording information: Whispering Pines, Los Angeles, California.
On their follow-up, Strange Trails, Lord Huron settle into the Western themes and sense of open prairies that marked the band's debut, Lonesome Dreams. Frontman/songwriter Ben Schneider fully embraces the American West/Troubadour character, illustrated even in song titles like "Dead Man's Hand," "Meet Me in the Woods," and "The Yawning Grave." The album's lyrics tell haunted stories of adventure and survival ("On the night you disappeared/Oh, if I had seen it clear/But a strange light in the sky was shining right into my eyes"), with nature imagery ("In a grave out here where the carrions cry"), and the occasional old-time turn of phrase ("Before I commence my ride/I'm asking Lily to be my bride"). With warm electric guitar sounds, soft and constant reverb, harmonized vocals, and a faint but persistent twang, it's a contemporary, specifically Fleet Foxes-reminiscent, indie folk-influenced rock haunted by allusions to the Old West. Listeners may envision fringe and spurs without any overt country presence (though there's certainly a subtle one) outside of lilting vocals, such as on "Way Out There." The band still focuses more on atmosphere and haunting, harmonic sound and rhythm than on progressions or memorable hooks, but the landscapes that they create are consistent and sound-defining, and there's no shortage of eerie beauty in the melodies. "The Night We Met," in particular, has a lullaby quality to its wistful, singsong melody ("I don't know what I'm supposed to do/Haunted by the ghost of you"). The record takes a few interesting musical routes on its journey: the reverbed rockabilly and surf sounds of "The World Ender," the campfire-gathering feel of "Meet Me in the Woods" with handclaps and female vocal harmonies, and the pulsing, ramblin' road tune "Frozen Pines" all contribute to an impression of timelessness as well as a certain folksiness befitting the album's well-established rural themes. There are no big surprises here; fans of Lonesome Dreams will surely be pleased, and Strange Trails' serene ambience and unconventional narrative may capture the imagination of inclined first-timers. ~ Marcy Donelson