More of the decent, incoherent same
For a band who broke through to the mainstream off a single from 13 Reasons Why, it is surprising how interwoven and impenetrable Lord Huron’s music can be lyrically. Fans have drawn up huge theories surrounding the fictional characters and how they play out across their often non-linear albums. The problem is that the music itself just isn’t interesting enough to want to dive that deep into its meaning. It’s not that their bad, by any means; they can put together a solid rollicking groove on songs like “Meet Me In the Woods” and pick up some real rock muscle on “Never Ever,” but they tend to go into a lot of different tones and tempos to the point of feeling incoherent. Long Lost is their follow-up to their most interesting release in Vide Noir, and yet sadly, it does not repeat its darker tones or rock edge and does not distinguish itself very much as its main concept does not work and it goes on too long like all their previous releases.
That’s not to say Long Lost is a bad record. They can put together a well-structured, catchy song like “Not Dead Yet,” and the deep Spaghetti western twang of the guitars against the eerie background whistles of “Mine Forever” and harps and strings of “Drops in the Lake” give the record some interesting texture. The vocal stacking on “Meet Me in the City” sells a wonderful atmosphere against a slow bassline and that elliptical minor-key riff, yet other moments. On the other hand, there’s the heavenly pedal steel and gentle gospel swell of “At Sea” that deserved to be longer. Sadly, the band’s trademark harmonies are not as much of a presence aside from “Twenty Long Years,” and it still feels all over the place in terms of style and production quality, with Ben Schneider’s voice sounding reverb-soaked and hazy on “At Sea” yet blown-out and over-bearing on “Mine Forever.”
Lord Huron records have a history of strange concepts, like the work of a fictional author on Lonesome Dreams and going on too long. Long Lost combines both with a framing device that does not work with the rest of the record’s sound. The three interludes, denoted by parenthesis around their names, and the outro of “What Do It Mean,” feature a fictional, old-school radio announcer named Tubbs Tarbell, introducing the band and creating the verisimilitude of a live radio performance. Genius even features a fictional note from Tubbs written about an encounter with Lord Huron themselves, and there was a series of videos where fans could ask Tubbs questions and were treated to bizarre commercials reinforcing that vintage veneer.
There are a couple of problems with the execution of this fictional character and framing device. First, it’s a bad idea for the first interlude to not open the album because it kills any momentum. Second, the aesthetic of Long Lost, as hinted by the title and Tarbell, is meant to symbolize some dug-up tapes from the past. However, the actual music does not feel old-school or vintage any more than something like the beautiful crackling opening of “Ancient Names (Part 1)” from their last record, so there’s no aesthetic cohesion. Queens of the Stone Age had a similar idea with Songs for the Deaf, but the goofy radio chatter worked because the record sounded like something playing on a long desert road trip.
Even with the indulgent concept, Long Lost almost hits a final home run with “What Do It Mean.” It has the prettiest strings, a really great dramatic melody and great lines about selling one’s soul to the devil for immortality yet wondering what the point of it is. The examination of the narrator’s inability to find purpose in what he’s done and bluntly asking, “What does it mean if it all means nothing?” is a potent one and would work as a finale. However, because slowly fading out on that repeated line is apparently not effective enough, Lord Huron decides to end with an indulgent, semi-ambient 14-minute closing instrumental called “Time’s Blur.” Yes, it’s intentionally oblique to signify its title, but that doesn’t make it enjoyable as music, especially when the previous song got across its message in a lot less time. It’s a pretty good summation of Lord Huron as a whole, though, as they come close to greatness and yet somehow just don’t bring it all together.