Lord Huron – Strange Trails

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A friend had recommended Lord Huron’s first CD, Lonesome Dream, back in 2012.  On the first listen, I liked it.  On the second… yawn.  There was a lulling sense of sameness that, despite the pleasant vocals and instrumentation, lost my interest.   Or, maybe it was the enjoyment of the western part of a genre that formerly was called Country & Western.  It’s not that exactly, but by feel, the recording oozed with wandering through prairies and communing with nature.  Still, I don’t have to love a record to take an interest in what the artist does next. 
lord huron strange trails CD review
Enter Strange Trails, with an album cover soaked in retro vibes, blending elements of the 60’s album covers, cheap backgrounds in B movies, and covers from sci-fi or horror pulp magazines.  So here we have “strange trails.”  Maybe the trail begins just beyond the tree.   Better duck to avoid that limb.

“Love Like Ghosts” might have been a typical love song, but it’s not.  Love, or its consequences, are something that haunts at night, along with the creepier possessive aspect of “if I can’t have you then no one will.”  Well, we knew it’s a strange trail, not a scenic overlook.  We carry on, but immediately find that we’re decidedly off the beaten path where a visitor from another planet warns of the world’s doom: 
I had a visitor come from the great beyond.
Telling me our time in the world is done,
and to watch for a sign in the midnight sky.
“Dead Man’s Hand” is probably my favorite lyric of the bunch, driving  along at night to discover a dead body in the road, bury it and then find it speaking of “there ain’t no thrills in the afterlife” and to lift him up so he can wander the desert.  Okay.  “Hurricane” hints not just towards an affinity to moral darkness but beckoning a special someone to join you there.   Mythology has its place as well, with a siren on the mountain who calls men and leaves men broken, followed by a desire to be buried with her at his side.  Strange indeed.

Even falling madly for a woman is clouded by doom.  “A Fool for Love” challenges the other interested party, Big Jim, which ends as badly as expected:
​I lie in the drifting snow
​Bleeding out as it covers me up
​If Spring comes before I'm found
​Just throw my bones in a hole in the ground
Maybe he becomes the “World Ender,” raised from the dead to create chaos, killing everything fair, brave and good, including the girl.  While communing with nature is hinted at in this and their prior album, “Meet me in the Woods” is a reminder of which woods one should enter.  Here, it’s more like any-fantasy-writer’s Mirkwood, a dark place where he begs another to join him to bring her fears to life.   “The Yawning Grave” hardly relieves the tension:
I tried to warn you when you were a child.
I told you not to get lost in the wilds.
I sent you omens and all kinds of signs.
I taught you melodies, poems and rhymes.
Oh you fool, there are rules, I am coming for you.
You can run but you can't be saved.
Darkness brings evil things, oh the reckoning begins.
You have opened the yawning grave.
“Frozen Pines” includes yet another walk in the woods, establishing the frozen trees as a barrier between staleness and growth, or life and death, with, of course, a willingness to charge ahead to the next life.  “Cursed” is another siren call, less on myth and more of a “love” that is bent to ruin men for her own pleasure.  Are we enjoying our trail?

“Way Out There” is another cursed end for a person who has traveled “strange trails” to such a distance that they’re not redeemable.   Except, “Louisa” happens.
I turned my back on the world.
I wasn't always like this, girl
Do you know what loneliness does to a man?
Turn him into the walking dead
I may have died but your lovin' raised me.
There.  All better!

Not.  “The Night We Met” isn’t a fond remembrance as lovers might recount.  It’s a desperate cry to go back to the starting point and adjust the relationship to a happy ending, rather than being “haunted by the ghost of you.”  Ouch.  End of the trail.

Aside from the CD cover art, the booklet has several photos with one line snippets from our prophet of woe.  Lyrics?  Not included.  I had to find them online.  Why release a concept album and not include the lyrics?

And, having listened to the CD five or more times, I found them to be rather a pleasant surprise (in the context of strange trails, a title which may have had absolutely nothing to do with the contents).    I enjoyed the music.  The rootsy sound, the 50’s reverb, great harmonies, the rockabilly vocal styling, the soft percussions, the improved melodies, the addition of a female vocalist – Lord Huron did a lot of things very well here.   But why is it that the lyrics were such a surprise?

Through those listens, the only words that registered were “ghosts” and “frozen pines.”    It’s partly the production.  The vocals seem to have a small slot in the sonic mix.  Maybe it’s the multi-tracking of the lead singer and/or the other vocalists.   And, maybe it’s the pronunciation.  Some singers can be clearly understood.  Without the lyrics in   breaks in song gaps.
And, that’s unfortunate.  It’s not that I won’t appreciate the CD.  I will.  I think it’s pretty good and one that I’ll revisit if just for the mood of the music.  But it’s still not what it could have been.  Despite the briskness of the songs, it tails off toward the end, and I’m aggrieved by the couple of spots that there is an audible gap when the tracks change from one song to the next when it’s obvious that the music carries through. 

Recommended songs:  “La Belle Fleur Sauvage,” “Fool for Love,” “World Ender”

  4 of 5 STARS_thumb

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