Review Summary: Energetic, cluttered, and occasionally incongruous, Lost in the Trees' debut album is a beautiful, if flawed indication of their future excellence.
Berklee seemed to pay off for Ari Picker. That’s not to say that it made him a better musician (although it almost certainly did), but that in the process he managed to find a slew of musicians eager enough to perform the music he had been dreaming up in his head. The album they’ve created writhes with youthful idealism, experimentation, innocence, and energy, but it’s also a somewhat awkward album, crammed with ideas that don’t always fit together.
For example, the album opens with a digitalized drum track and keys that builds bursts to life with a full, dramatic string ensemble, that unfortunately sounds a little too much like “A Fifth of Beethoven” to truly be taken seriously. This, however, only serves as an introduction, as it quickly drops down to nothing more than a banjo that then has the melody carried by violin, baritone, and tuba in intervals, and here we have the two sides of Lost in the Trees on Time Taunts Me: the bombastic pop-classical and the indie folk. Both work very well, and they often work well together, but, as you might imagine, the musical moods sometimes clash. Sometimes it seems as if they couldn’t think of an effective transition between two ideas and dead stop an orchestra to be replaced by a single acoustic guitar and Ari Pickers voice.
In the moments that they do fit it all together, though, it’s glorious. Think of Moody Blues’ Days of Future Passed. Often there would be an orchestra playing, often a 60s rock band, and while the two came together less frequently than one might expect for a band sharing an album, when they did (“Nights in White Satin”), the album shone with incredible life. The band is much better at change by addition than subtraction, and there are moments of almost transcendental beauty as they take a simple guitar melody and add counter line after counter line of instrumentation until it builds to one massive, classically triumphant shout. “Tall Trees” begins with the energetic poppy, almost disco sounding string orchestra that has served as a major backbone, but soon drops to nothing more than guitar and builds the whole thing back up again with a glorious, swirling ¾ orchestral melody.
There are a lot of ideas on this record, and the end result is something disarmingly kaleidoscopic. As far as instrumentation goes, anything’s game, so that folky arrangements may suddenly burst out with a tuba or church organ solo. While this may not be the epitome of tasteful music, it’s incredibly entertaining in the way that it keeps you surprised as each song twists and turns. At the same time it manages to take a melody and force them into your head, where they may remain lodged for an indefinite period of time, such as the infectious tango of “Ballroom Dancing.”
Although perhaps what this album is notable for is the extreme contrast in the music that he will develop for the next two albums. Tragedy in this case provided the impetus for inspiration, transforming the direction of the band after this album, unifying the musical ideas, and giving bite to the dark lyrics that Picker loved even here. “This axe can and will be used again to chop myself into bits,” he sings on “Utterly Alone,” showing the darkness that lurked beneath the album even before his music became dominated by hyper-personal tragedy.
In the end, it’s a cluttered, musically cramped debut, and suggests greatness while not always providing the incredibly high quality that would become the norm on subsequent releases.
- Tall Trees
- If You're Afraid of the Dark
- Ballroom Dancing
- Utterly Alone
- Time. It Will not Erase Me