The Air Up There
Lonesome Dreams, the first LP-length record by Lord Huron, a project lead by singer-songwriter Ben Schneider, is intriguing in the midst of its lack of intrigue. Meaning, though the songs are reasonably well crafted and performed, it doesn’t make so much a splash as it does a series of pleasant, if unspectacular ripples into the eardrums.
There seems to be a concerted effort here to appeal to a lonely “cowboy’s heart on the sleeve” type perspective (nearly every song broaches this kind of affect), but the music is not really grounded in that genre’s styling. The production gives Lonesome Dreams a very airy feeling. One can almost feel a distinct rustling breeze blowing under the feet of the music. This is not a bad thing per se, but it does give an odd slant to the alt-country formula. “Ghost on the Shore,” for example, rides an atmospheric haze with a steady jaunt of fiddles, acoustic and subdued electric guitars that give the impression the voice is hovering over the foggy Pacific Northwest greenery of coastal Oregon rather than haunting it by foot.
The most glaring issue here is as the tracks are well performed and not at all “bad” in the conventional sense, it feels like the kind of album you would put on when you want something calm and a little sentimental to listen to while you’re lost in your own thoughts. Case in point, the sleepy and almost too delicate “Lullaby”—which likely, if you’re not careful, will put you to sleep—perhaps takes the bed-time mandate of its title a little too seriously. Also, it feels a little strange to single out too many of the ten tracks on Lonesome Dreams, as often is the case for younger bands, almost all the songs have something admirable about them. The rhythmic patterns of the title track, “The Man Who Lives Forever” bringing some added percussion and vocalization suggestive of Native American music and the hop ’n’ skip folk–country singalong chorus of “Time to Run” certainly have their appeal, but in the end, no track shines in and of itself. And when you’re a band trying to make a name for itself, having songs that sit too comfortably on the side of the road yields a takeaway much like you would expect: somewhat boring.
Lord Huron clearly have their craft down, and for all the impersonal distance the production puts between the listener and the music, the strategy is a unique one. As a debut, it’s only average, and seeing how Lonseome Dreams is not their first proper release (2010 gave us two EPs, Mighty, and Into the Sun), one would think it is time for Schneider and company to take some more, even subtle, creative risks with the music. For future reference, when dealing with lyrical subject matter steeped in the lonely rambling of a country troubadour, it seems obvious the music would have to have less of a head-in-the-clouds feel to it: Less time in the air, more time in the soil.