If you follow any of the social media channels from Anacortes, WA based four-piece, The Lonely Forest, you’ll know that they’re mighty proud of where they come from. It’s understandable – the place is beautifully situated on a jut of land surrounded by water, with a view towards far off islands as the Pacific coast leads up into Canada. It has giant trees in surrounding parks that, when combined with the Cascade and Olympic mountains, provide a well grounded backdrop for observing life. The reason I mention all of this is that their music – pop rock to the core – is a wonderfully direct reflection of this place of origin.
Adding Up The Wasted Hours, the band’s fourth album, and second on the Chris Walla (Death Cab For Cutie) helmed Trans- Records label, is a perfect follow up to 2011’s critically acclaimed Arrows. After living out the classic tale of major label courtship woes in the two years since Arrows, singer John Van Deusen’s voice has grown stronger yet somehow more relaxed, and his lyrics remain poignant as ever; direct and personal yet open enough so as to let the rest of us in. His bandmates (guitarist Tony Ruland, bassist Eric Sturgeon, and drummer Braydn Krueger), meanwhile, which formed a solid homogenous whole in the past, now seem ready to step forward into the light. The bass lines are more pronounced (see “Neon Never Changes”), the guitars have a more defined voice (“Left Hand Man”), the drums are more assured and ready to explore, and the whole thing is wrapped up neatly in Walla’s immaculate production.
So what’s AUTWH about? It is, of course, about relationships (personal, professional, and with the world in general), as any pop rock record should be. But where The Lonely Forest succeeds is that they aren’t afraid to hold up a mirror and pull back the curtain a little. It comes back to that hometown pride and, especially, all that water – a recurring theme you don’t even need to look very far to spot, in titles like “Soundings In Fathoms” or “Lovrics”, a reference to an Anacortes marina. They’re able to simultaneously be grounded and self aware, both of themselves and their surroundings, while also reaching for the next level in their career. This alone is a testament to why they deserve bigger stages than they’ve yet received. And therein lies another theme of the record: what it means to be a touring rock band in a time when that doesn’t often live up to the dream it’s made out to be. It’s a lot of hours spent in a van or backstage missing both the highlights of home, as well as the day-to-day, as referenced in the title track “And I’ve been picturing you in the empty kitchen/Snow is covering an overgrown garden/I wish I was there to make you angry/I’d turn off my phone, smoke in the alley/Freezing cold/I’m adding up all the wasted hours away”.
The monster hooks are all still here – something this band has in seemingly endless reserves – but, when compared with their earlier work, this record feels like they’ve been set free. It has the energy of someone stepping out into the sunlight for the first time after quitting their day job, carefree and ready for whatever the world may bring. It’s the sound of a band writing the rules of who they are so that they can break them. Nowhere on the record is this more evident than in “Neon Never Changes” (certainly a highlight), where they depart slightly from the verse/chorus formula for darker, more atmospheric musings (something, it could be argued, that may be a carryover influence from Walla’s more recent work with Death Cab For Cutie).
Other highlights venturing further afield include first single “Warm/Happy” and album opener “Pull The Pin”, both of which, though standard in structure, also stretch the instrumentation a little further afield without losing track of the overall identity. AUTWH is an album full of gems that stand on their own, one after another, front to back, until 43 minutes have suddenly disappeared. It’s an album that has enough layers to grow over time, yet is still immediate enough to win over the first listen. And it is a band unafraid of living in their own skin, pushing forward who they are, and, in the process, making one of the most solid rock albums of the year.