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Lord Huron: Long Lost

Lord Huron’s fourth album ends with a 14 minute ambient sunset, the peaceful ghosts of the record whispering over a dramatic backdrop. It’s a bold evolution of the band’s long demonstrated talent for crafting ethereal landscapes from otherwise straightforward songwriting. More than ever before, Lord Huron pull all the stops on Long Lost, immersing the listener in lush string arrangements and echoing announcers that usher the band onto the stages of our memories. The record is front man Ben Schneider’s best yet, a warm and wistful experience that sticks in your mind like the rare dream that’s allowed to finish before you awake.

Schneider’s project emerged from the indie folk trend of the early 2010s, but unlike Mumford and Sons with their banjo or The Lumineers with their “Ho!”s and “Hey!”s, his signature sound was tougher to nail down. Caribbean drums, twangy mandolins and Schneider’s distant, Jim James-esque vocals made Lord Huron’s early songs a bit of a mixed bag, but one that was grounded by patient and genuine songwriting that eventually led to the hit ballad “The Night We Met.” The following Vide Noir saw Schneider lean into indie rock with tracks like “Never Ever” and “Ancient Names (Part I)” borrowing from Arcade Fire and Arctic Monkeys, and while its songs were invigorating and well executed, the record as a whole failed to commit to the breakout concept album its stargazing imagery and multi-part titles teased.

Long Lost is not exactly a concept album, but the connective tissue and commitment are there, making Schneider’s fourth record his most fully realized. Interludes of radio MCs introducing Lord Huron are scattered across a track list of dust bowl riffs and country strumming, giving the sense that we’re tuning into some vintage Western program. Of course, such a backdrop is well worn territory in music and movies, but perhaps the most brilliant thing about this album is that it sells its premise by leaning into stunning string arrangements and Schneider’s honest performances rather than the instrumentation that defines the genre. It would have been so easy to throw the clip-clop of a cowboy’s horse onto any one of these tracks, but Long Lost never comes across so heavy-handed.

The title track shows off all this as sweeping strings paint epic landscapes behind Schneider’s pleas of “Send me to the mountains/ Let me go free.” The strings and vocals play call and response throughout the verses but join in unison between each line of the chorus, masterfully mixing the voice into the orchestra as Schneider gets lost in nature. “Drops in the Lake” boasts similarly impressive production, its subtle backing vocals, strings and acoustic strumming creating a lush scenery but somehow leaving room for deep electric guitar picking and some of the more powerful vocals you’ll hear from Schneider.

The album’s inviting production is complemented by passionate lyricism and songwriting. The straightforward guitar line on “Love Me Like You Used To” is one of the few moments here that threatens cliché, but it’s saved by Schneider’s raw confession of regret, closing the track with an almost a capella “I can’t erase the day that I went and left you.” A similar mourning haunts the tender “Twenty Long Years,” on which Schneider sings “I made a life out of chasin’ a ghost” over a campfire acoustic strum. The song is elevated by a moving turn towards resolve or desperation with “I got to find a way out of this mess,” and a false ending reveals a tearful crowd singing the outro’s repeated lyric, seemingly as stuck as the protagonist. On the melancholy waltz “I Lied,” Schneider sings of remorse, with newcomer Allison Ponthier adding a note of liberation after a lost relationship. Their opposing tones create a clever irony as they join to sing “I made a vow to stand beside you ‘til the day that I die.”

There are a few awkward transitions throughout the slightly overlong album, but Long Lost gets so much right. It’s a confident commitment to a vintage sound that brings out the best songwriting from Schneider, and it demonstrates an impressive restraint and emphasis on beauty and honesty over cliché that allow Lord Huron to own that sound. The band doesn’t break any new ground, but experimentation would be out of place on a record like this. Instead, the band has leveraged all of their strengths and experience to craft the definitive Lord Huron album.

Summary
Lord Huron’s best album yet is a warm and wistful experience that sticks in your mind like the rare dream that’s allowed to finish before you awake.
80 %
Wistfully vintage
  • Lord Huron: Vide Noir

    Lord Huron seems to be staring up from that campfire into an unanswering sky. …

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