They—they being scientists and philosophers—say that everything in nature is connected and nothing can ever die. Dead things decompose to become nutrients for plants and rivers are always rushing, always changing. Nothing can ever be destroyed. There is always energy, always shifting from potential to kinetics and then back again. It must have been this endlessness of nature that inspired Ben Schneider, also known as Lord Huron, and his latest album, Strange Trails. After all, Schneider did start this musical project when he was traveling home to Michigan.
And so, the record plays like a flowing river. The first song on the album, “Love Like Ghost,” has a soft intro with picking guitars. Suddenly, the song flows into the next, “Until the Night Turns.” This song cycle that starts the album seems so strange, as the songs seem to be the anthesis of each other. As the latter track with its driving, bouncy snare and charming back-up vocals, it goes from melancholy to happily running through the forest. It is as though the river turned into a waterfall.
Maybe it is this feeling of not knowing what is going to come around the next corner that makes the album is interesting. It has surprising variety for a genre that usually only consists of an acoustic guitar and light drumming. The composition of the music feels like it would be right at home in a western movie that had its score composed by Ennio Morricone. There is the shuffle of the acoustic guitar on “La Belle Fluer Savage” that makes you feel like you’re going to a dancehall to find the person of your dreams, only to realize that they are actually a beautiful savage flower—the name of the song in English. Then there is the slide guitar on “The World Ender” that makes you feel like you could win at any shootout. It is an impressive and diverse album musically.
With that being said, lyrically and vocally it is more of a pond instead of a river. There is no sense of urgency in what he is singing about or how he sings it. He sings about love and girls and not feeling like he belongs. All of which is fine, but if you are going to sing about something that has been done a before, you have to do it with some panache. You don’t have to have the best voice to make the person listening know you mean it—just look at John Darnielle of The Mountain Goats and Sean Bonnette of Andrew Jackson Jihad—but Schneider seems content to rest on his ever so breathy vocals and his lackluster lyrics about girls and the like.
Musically the Strange Trails is reminiscent of walking through an uncharted forest, where everything is green and growing and the water is fresh. Every composition brings something new, different and interesting to the table. If only that were true about what Lord Huron said over the ever-present strumming of his acoustic guitar.