Review Summary: Lord Huron 2.0: Very close to Lord Huron 1.0, but is that such a bad thing?
Ben Schneider’s musical vehicle Lord Huron achieved a moderate amount of acclaim for their first full-length album, Lonesome Dreams, which positioned the act as a potential rising star in the musical world. This strong debut mixed folk with orchestral elements, sometimes resulting in sound approaching chamber pop. Lonesome Dreams established Lord Huron as an authentic group still reasonably accessible to listeners of mainstream radio artists, somewhere between The Tallest Man On Earth and Mumford & Sons. Strange Trails sees the band back in action, and the results show that Lord Huron remains a potent force with the folkier recesses of the indie music scene. A general lack of progression, though, is a potential flaw of the release.
Strange Trails’ beginning seems to suggest greater diversity than the folk-meets-chamber pop sound which dominated the band’s first release. The opener, “Love Like Ghosts” is harmony-heavy folk reminiscent of Fleet Foxes in the best way possible, while the following song “Until The Night Turns” is an upbeat country-rock tune. While neither of these tracks stretch the boundaries of Lord Huron’s sound too far, these two songs are clearly distinct from each other. In contrast, most of the remainder of Strange Trails would be quite at home on Lonesome Dreams, even if the new album is marginally folkier in direction. The results are much too “samey” for their own good. This weakness is compounded by the fact that 14-song Strange Trails approaches a full-hour, certainly an excessive length for this type of music.
This should not be taken as a brutally-harsh critique of the album, however. While flaws are undoubtedly present, Strange Trails is, all in all, a fundamentally-sound release, at least on par with its great predecessor. “La Belle Fleur Sauvage”, with its impeccably bucolic atmosphere, is a gorgeous song which is clearly among the band’s best work, while “Meet Me In The Woods” also stands out due to its immense catchiness. Beyond these highlights, even the less memorable tracks are perfectly pleasant listens. While still maintaining some pop influences, Lord Huron manages to recall a classic folk sound here, with certain moments bringing legendary artists such as Gordon Lightfoot to mind.
While in terms of actual sound, Strange Trails is (perhaps unfortunately) very close to that of Lonesome Dreams, it does manage to produce a distinctive mood. While a leading preoccupation of Lord Huron’s first album was the idea of “the journey” and of seemingly-endless travel, this theme is mostly absent in Strange Trails. Instead, the “in the forest” feeling implied by the album cover is very much in keeping with the music. Ranging in tone from rustic celebration to melancholy solitude, Strange Trails’s predominant themes can be a little claustrophobic at times, but are also deeply personal. This is epitomized in “Frozen Pines”, when Schneider’s plaintive statement “I don’t wanna be the only one livin’ when all my friends are gone” can hit the listener in the heart, particularly when combined with the evocative verses and musical accompaniment.
Ultimately, Strange Trails is an album that, while somewhat derivative, will likely be very enjoyable to fans of artists such as Fleet Foxes and Ben Howard. While mastermind Ben Schneider introduces minimal changes to the band’s sound, the overall lack of significant evolution might be disappointing to some. However, such questions will only become serious if the band’s next release continues to explore within the same limited sonic boundaries, and for now, one can and should simply enjoy the consistently enjoyable creations of Lord Huron.