In spite of best intentions, it can be difficult for a group to escape the influence of their luminaries. Such is the case with Los Angeles-based indie-folk quintet Lord Huron. Initially a solo project of Michigan-born songwriter Ben Schneider, Lord Huron deliver a pleasing debut album of idealised and sepia-tinted Americana, tainted only by the established familiarity of that acoustic scene.
Schneider and his collaborators are serious about the romanticised aesthetic of their music. Consciously recalling "rust-coloured canyons and characters of the Wild West", Lonesome Dreams is the atmospheric sound of a hazy frontier, of a solitary wanderer surveying the landscape and seeking his place within the panoramic vista before him.
Though Schneider's pitch and theme may lack subtlety, the music is appropriately refined. Lonesome Dreams' ten songs are given space, with little concession to the bombast of the band's more commercial indie-folk peers. Meandering instrumental sections sporadically employ exotic instrumentation (singles 'Time to Run', 'The Man Who Lives Forever') and dictate a measured tempo throughout. Gamelan chimes and marimba provide some of the album's more unusual and aurally arresting moments.
Sonically, the impression of sparsity is accentuated by a haunting reverb (the lilting waltz of 'The Ghost on the Shore') designed to echo across the vast plains of the wilderness. Distant percussion emanates from a valley far below. Gentle harmonies drift ethereally, while the insistent pace of the title track, 'She Lit a Fire' or the exhilarating 'Time to Run' maintain a momentum carried by neat segues between songs. Tinges of country recur, as on accomplished opener 'Ends of the Earth', while the delicate 'Lullaby' is a soothing ballad enhanced by marimba and a fuller sound.
Schneider exercises lyrical dexterity, and Lonesome Dreams is veritably riddled with escapist allusions to cold winds, moonlit lakes, winding roads and tree lines, but it doesn't always connect. The potency of some tracks is diluted by homogeneity in structure and tone. More than this, though, the inescapable shadow of folk revivalists Fleet Foxes (find also traces of Band of Horses, My Morning Jacket) looms like an insurmountable peak obstructing Lord Huron's ambitious odyssey. While no bad thing for adherents to the genre, the parallels seem just a little too apparent and calculated.
Lord Huron have produced an earnest, nuanced album of substance. Lonesome Dreams effectively and cohesively communicates its evocative story. However, always mellow but sometimes uninspiring, in parts an album to be heard rather than listened to, Lonesome Dreams is at worst a superfluous addition to a saturated genre, at best an uncomfortable retread of the tried and tested.
Review by Killian Barry