Posted on April 7th, 2015 (3:00 pm) by Theresa Flanagan

Far from shying away from the heavily conceptual approach of Lonesome Dreams, Lord Huron frontman Ben Schneider continues to draw on his background in visual arts on the band's sophomore effort, Strange Trails. The former Michigan native started making music as a solo effort back in 2010, building up a band by the time he released Lonesome Dreams in 2012. That release had a rich background built around the fictional author George Ranger Johnson and his collection of Western novels. While certain themes (and definitely many sounds) have spilled over to Strange Trails, the alternate reality introduced has skipped forward in time and has become slightly more fragmented.

While Lonesome Dreams started out, if fictitiously, based around books before progressing to film form, Strange Trails takes us straight to the movies. Prior to making any official announcements, Lord Huron released a short teaser back in January with clips of not only the audio tracks of the album, but also some visual snippets as well. That was followed up by not quite daily hints at the track list through posts of track art. On February 9th, they finally put all the pieces together for fans in this post:

Compared to Lonesome Dreams, Strange Trails feels less like a series and more like, as promised, "14 tales from the unknown" that share some details or characters, but don't necessarily connect contiguously. The video for the first single off the album, "Fool For Love," throws in a lot of hints about the rest of the album, most obviously the two tracks that sandwich it. It depicts a brawl between '50s greasers, "The World Enders," and lumberjack trucker types "The Tumbleweeds," and a reference to a girl named Lily, likely "La Belle Fleur Sauvage." Additionally, you'll notice a billboard featured during a chase scene that reads, "Feeling Lost?" and an 800 number that we'll let you discover yourself. Call it and you'll find yourself in a grim choose-your-own-adventure, heading down darkly lit paths through unknown woods.

It's unfair to judge the music that Lord Huron produces without introducing all the other pieces that go with it. Now that we have, it's time to get down to how Strange Trails sounds. In tune with the shift in back story, there is less spaghetti western on this second album compared to the first. Less, but it's still there, along with more of the eastern influences that Schneider brought in based on his travels through Indonesia, where he was introduced to the gamelan. Considering our introduction, it's probably unsurprising that Strange Trails is still best described as cinematic folk. On most every track, Schneider's lyrics tell a tale, with the instrumentation helping to paint a picture. Lonesome Dreams introduced certain dark themes that have been further explored on Strange Trails. The narrator of each story is most often portrayed as haunted and lonely, exploring wild and unknown territory. Common phrases and ideas reappear from track to track, to the point where sometimes it can seem like you're hearing the same one again. It's not just the lyrics that promote this feeling of deja vu, much of the instrumentation overlaps as well. While the narrator switches from an ominous reckoner on "The Yawning Grave" to a wandering, yet somewhat hopeful, mourner on "Frozen Pines," the same line carries over from the first to the next - changing from a haunting beckon to a ghostly presence. The self-referential interplay between different tracks isn't limited to just those that appear on Strange Trails. "Until The Night Turns" particularly is highly reminiscent of "Time To Run" off of Lonesome Dreams. Both start out with a relative calm before erupting into a driven urgency.

The band has put together an aptly titled playlist on Spotify of "Strange Trails Influencers," which gives an idea of the diverse sources of inspiration for their particular blend. Some are far easier to see (or hear) than others; the swingy rhythms and vocal accents of rockabilly, the dark bent of gallows ballads, the incorporation of Eastern influences all come through clearly. However, how Mos Def figures in, we're not so sure.

The first half of Strange Trails tends to drive forward with purpose, with the faster paced, more rockabilly influenced "Until The Night Turns," "Hurricane," "Fool For Love," and the hard-charging "The Word Ender" leading the way. Towards the finish there is a more meandering flow, matching with lyrics tending towards reflection and uncertainty. Without the rich backstory provided by the band, there are points where Strange Trails could come off a tad lackluster for some listeners. We can see how that feeling of deja vu could stagnate into boredom. At the same time, that repetition is what connects the different pieces of the story. That musical theme that connects "The Yawning Grave" and "Frozen Pines" actually also appears in "Meet Me In The Woods Tonight," tying together all three into a broader story arc. Even with the overarching themes, there is a surprising amount of variety mixed in, from the eerie minor tone of "Dead Man's Hand" with its harmonica solos, to the unexpectedly sweet charm of "Hurricane," to the boisterous swagger of "The World Ender," to the pensive depth of "Frozen Pines."

With Strange Trails, Lord Huron expands further on the world that Ben Schneider introduced listeners to on Lonesome Dreams. While it's certainly a solid enough listen all on its own, we think it's worth checking out the wealth of other material that the band has provided. Though "Fool For Love" is the only full music video out for now, there will be plenty more to follow if the album trailer is any indication. Check out "Fool For Love" above, or stream the full album through iTunes Radio First Play. Strange Trails is out this week, and the band will be heading out on tour next week. You can see if they're headed your way here!

Track List

  1. Love Like Ghosts
  2. Until The Night Turns
  3. Dead Man's Hand
  4. Hurricane
  5. La Belle Fleur Sauvage
  6. Fool for Love
  7. The World Ender
  8. Meet Me in the Woods
  9. The Yawning Grave
  10. Frozen Pines
  11. Cursed
  12. Way Out There
  13. Louisa
  14. The Night We Met
Lord Huron - Strange Trails Review
Purchase at: Amazon | eMusic

Our Rating

74 / 100
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