Review Summary: Sufjan met Igor Stravinsky in a funeral parlor...
The impetus behind "A Church That Fits Our Needs" instantly brings the listener to a place of grief and despair, but also a tiresome foreboding. The records narrative is driven by the death of lead singer Ari Picker's mother,a cancer striken patient who commited suicide in late 2009. It was a harrowing experience that seemed to be as inspiring to Ari as it was derogratory. It produced what is undoubtably Lost In The Tree's most complex and rewarding album, one that fulfills what the band has been promising from it's inception, but not in the manner that anyone would of hoped. The concept is possibly the most overdone in music, with multiple albums a year seemingly inspired somewhat by the concept of loss. Records of this type seem to boil down into overdone theatrics, or overly-aggressive depression. And equally as troublesome, for those that appreciate their positive outview on life, heavy subject matter leads to limited listening. But there is a reason that artists and their fans continue to flock to subject matter such as this, because within grief lies more beauty and genius then any other emotion, and every few years a record comes along that makes you forget that any other record of the type preceded it. Make no mistake, "A Church That Fits Our Needs" is Lost In The Trees magnum opus, and it rotates within the heaviest of places.
"A Church That Fits Our Needs" is Lost In Trees second album, following their debut "All Alone In An Empty House" and an extended EP "Time Haunts Me". Ari has always reveled in dark indie folk, and has very rarely shown much else but subdued depression within his artform, but within "A Church..." the band loses anything that might have hidden that fact. In previous records, Lost In The Trees, was split between being depressed aficionado's and being ones typical folk band. After all, "Time Haunts Me" from their original E.P descends into a somber "Hey Jude" type singalong, while pieces such as "Alone In An Empty House" and "Fireplace" from their debut album had no problem pasting hummable hooks to their grave mantras. "A Church..." though shows no hesitation or reget in abandoning anything remotely singable within its ranks. The band has abandoned the idea of making a pop album...instead they made a requiem.
And a requiem, even in the classical sense, is appropriate. Ari Picker made his musical debut not with a struggling indie folk band but rather with the North Carolina Symphony, and for the first time, the promise of having a classically trained frontman finally came to fruition for Lost In The Trees. Many times the heavy essence of strings even surpasses the presence of Ari's ever present acoustic guitar, vibrating with discordant purpose. The songs seem less like the pop songs and more like movements, often ebbing and flowing not unlike a classical piece. The complexity and depth found within this album is inspiring, but it also leads to problems. These songs seem far too intimate for consumption, far to theatric for a simple folk album, and far too dark for casual listening. The listener will get his only gasp of air at the 40 minute mark, where the second to last song "An Artists Song" finally shows sparks of optimism, but even that gets muddied by a mix of foreboding strings towards its end.This music isn't fit for a stereo, it yearns for a concert hall, but will settle for a funeral. The album is, in every sense, exhausting.
But still, within its flaw, it finds its greatest strengths as well. Perhaps what "A Church..." displays best is Picker finally able to explore his vision fully without the need for accessibility, and it seems that without the dark twisted caves this album inhabits, its greatest moments would have never come to fruition. Nothing has been as crushing in the last several years as the end of the midpoint "Tall Ceilings" where Ari Picker insistently cries "I will come around" although the increasingly chaotic strings in the background let the listener know that he will never really come around. Similarly, very little seems as touching as the refrain in "This Dead Bird Is Beautiful", where Ari sighs "I'll carry her, but I'll always have her eyes." The sparks of optimism too, however slight, seem brighter then the most cheery of expressions. My masculine heart broke in "An Artists Song" when Ari proclaims 'So sing out your song of faith, because I have none, your song is my armor."
Ari's mother was a painter before she took her own life, and Ari expressed in an interview ,taken a month ago, that his goal for the album was to acheive everything in the album that his mother couldn't acheive in her life (or adjacently, her art). One has the feeling that if her art ever reached this height, it still wouldn't have gained much popularity. It would have been too demanding, too draining, and simply too intertwined within itself. It would have been disregarded to the back of some attic, rotting away in the dust. But in several month's time, one would of closed their eyes, and seen its images imprinted on the inside of ones eyelids, vividly reflecting every stroke. Because however dank it might be, shit
this intoxicating gets remembered. I have a feeling I will remember my last several listens to this album for a very long time.