Lord Huron burst on the scene in 2012 with the blustery dream-folk sounds of their debut record Lonesome Dreams. A gorgeous flowing stream of clean harmonies and angelic guitars, Dreams made a deep footprint, and the band sold out countless shows on that tour. And they’ll likely follow suit with their follow up record Strange Trails, Lord Huron is still cranking out visual soundscapes with their pretty melodies and up-tempo hippy grooves worthy of every summer music festival from east coast to west coast.
It may take a few listens of Trails to really and truly differentiate it from Dreams. They’re not all that different of records. In fact, Trails almost sounds like an extension of Dreams, as though the band couldn’t fit every song they wanted on their first album so they divvied it up into two and released them a couple of years apart. That it’s 14-songs long tells us that they obviously still have a lot more to say. The LA-based five-some is so skilled at these sun-drenched travelogue songs, you can’t hold it against them.
They take a slightly more country turn on a few songs, particularly the catchy “Dead Man’s Hand”, a dark cowboy song that details the disposal of a body with rich harmonicas. Similarly, “Hurricane” is a foot-stomper that fuses those glistening guitar melodies with twangy vocal harmonies.
Nearly all their songs seem to have that same general message of “life is short” and “live in the now”. They’d make the perfect soundtrack for that annoying frat guy from college who follows every trail and adventure with total abandon and mysterious funding. Or for a collage of beautiful people exploring the world, tanned and taut and full of vibrant life and vigor. Doesn’t mean these songs aren’t great, just that there’s noting too unique about them. And there sure as hell didn’t need to be more than a dozen of them to make a quality record.
Of course, there are a handful of standouts here, particularly the haunting “La Belle Fleur Sauvage”, an almost rockabilly guitar-driven dreamboat of a song, and the menacing surf guitar noir “The World Ender”. As a whole, Trails is much more energetic than Dreams. Lord Huron sounds best when they seem to be edging outside their comfort zone more. Songs with interesting guitars and quirkier vocals lend more intrigue than the countless dreamy half-ballads about how beautiful the land is. Had they cut three or even four of these and narrowed Trails down to ten solid stories, it would be a much stronger sophomore effort.
Fans of Lord Huron will seriously dig this, though, and there’s no harm in that. Trails is a fun record, and will make for some great barefoot dance parties this summer. Just don’t be surprised if you start hearing it more and more in Urban Outfitters, or even a car commercial. But there is substance here, so try not to write it off too soon if you do.
Having listen to “Trails” almost nonstop for the past few days, it would appear that we share similar views on the record. I am as diehard a fan as they come when it comes to Lord Huron, but all the same the magnitude of this tracklist was a bit tough to swallow in its entirety — much different than Dreams, which I would regularly listen to from front to back.
The continuity in structure and rhythm in the tracks “Love Like Ghosts”, “Meet Me in the Woods” and “The Night We Met” is an interesting technique, but it does get tiring, to the point where it seems as if “Ghosts” and “Night” exist almost solely to serve this sense of continuity… and frankly, I’m not sure it’s needed. The admittedly lazy lyrics of the opening track gives it the notorious tag of being the first Lord Huron track I’m not crazy over. There are definitely other tracks like “Frozen Pines” that could be done away with, and even cutting this tracklist down to 11 would make Trails a solid, legitimate follow up that could even surpass Lonesome Dreams.
Criticism aside, every track aside from the opener and closer and “Pines” are home-runs for me. Classic, impossibly catchy Lord Huron that is bound to dominate my playlists from now until the Ends Of The Earth.
“There are definitely other tracks like Frozen Pines that could be done away with…”
Odd choice considering the majority of every Lord Huron fan I have spoken with flips a coin between “Frozen Pines” and “Meet Me in the Woods” as the best track on the album.
This album…dare I say…is better than Lonesome Dreams. I certainly didn’t expect to say that. Fantastic record! I sincerely hope they keep up the tremendous work.
I wouldn’t say it’s an “odd choice”. Taste is subjective.
I also am a big fan of Lord Huron, which is why I gave the record a mostly positive review. Though it’s hard not to notice the repetition on Strange Trails. In any case, looking forward to catching them this summer at Newport Folk Fest!
I’m a big fan of their first album. I think there are some tracks here that are very similar to what we heard in Lonesome Dreams, but overall Strange Trails has a much different feel. It is generally at a faster tempo and the stories told are definitely different. There’s nothing that feels like it’s on a grand scale like The Man Who Lives Forever and Ends of the Earth, but the tight, quick songs still sound really good and it doesn’t drag on like albums tend to do once they go past 10 songs. I can’t say whether one of Lonesome Dreams and Strange Trails is better than the other one; all I can say is to listen to both.
Thanks for the review Maeri – I’m also a LH fan after “stumbling” upon them at Newport Folk 2013. I knew right away they had a very unique sound which I could not peg to any other band. Well, since then I’ve seen them four more times. Their stage presence and sound gets better and better. I thought about which tracks could be left off the new disc but could not decide which. Seeing how the comments above all have different choices of favorites I could understand why the band kept all 14 tracks. When people ask me how to describe the album I say to envision David Lynch meets spaghetti western. The disc is very addicting but the back to back to back tracks of Fool for Love, The World Ender, and Meet Me in the Woods keeps me head bopping for a solid 15 minutes. Fortunately for me I live in Newport and will see them once again at NFF 2015. Anyone not having seen them live do yourself a favor and buy a ticket wherever they might play.