Release Date: Feb 18, 2014
Record label: Anti
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock, Indie Rock
On 2012's bold A Church That Fits Our Needs, Lost in the Trees mastermind Ari Picker mourned the suicide of his mother with equal parts grace, empathy, and fury, effectively turning what could have been the biggest downer of the year into a surprisingly stirring and transformative experience that found the sweet spot between meticulous, music school artistry, and baseline, heart on the sleeve humanity. 2014's Past Life finds Picker and the rest of the Chapel Hill orchestral pop outfit dialing back the bombastic melancholia in favor of a more refined, almost monastic approach to songcraft that introduces a few stray rays of sunlight into the room without disrupting the glow of the candelabra. The biggest difference between the two albums, sonically speaking, is the way in which they utilize silence.
As if rewriting his own history book and channeling a different lifetime, Lost in the Trees’ mastermind Ari Picker decided to scrap what had made his first two albums successful while writing his third. He pared down his band from six members to four, calling on electronics and siren-like choral phrases in lieu of bombastic, orchestral arrangements. He worked with an outside producer for the first time, Nicolas Vernhes (Deerhunter, Dirty Projectors, Animal Collective), who helped strip the music to its bare necessities.
On the new album Past Life, North Carolina-based orchestral folkers Lost in the Trees have found complexity via simplicity. Previous output from the band, including All Alone in an Empty House (re-released in 2010) and 2012’s A Church that Fits our Needs, demonstrated bandleader and lead-singer Ari Picker’s exquisite songwriting and melodic sensibility. A classically trained composer, Picker relied on choruses of angelic singing, swooning string passages, and horns “from on high” to drive home the emotional content of his sweet but sad songs.
Many a band with big, expansive, heavily orchestrated sounds have fallen victim to constant expansion, to trying to stretch past their already epic means. Even on their folkier debut, All Alone in an Empty House, Lost in the Trees was pushing its borders with neo-classical flourishes. The beautiful and sad A Church That Fits Our Needs, a tribute to frontman Ari Picker’s late mother, meshed those two sides of the band’s sound into something even grander, even more atmospheric.
On Lost In The Trees' latest, head composer Ari Picker's simplified the band's signature orchestral folk sound - but not in the way you'd expect. Yes, the North Carolina-based collective contracted from six to four members. But the pared-down aesthetic is actually achieved via an electro-rock set-up, heavy on beats and bass lines, that turns Picker's floating vocals into the most important instrument.
Lost In The Trees' last album, A Church That Fits Our Needs, was in essence a very moving tribute to the mother of their frontman Ari Picker. He worked through the sadness of her suicide and created a beautiful collection of songs in the process. Past Life initially seems positively upbeat compared to its predecessor, but it turns out that Picker has just changed his tack: instead of relying on sparseness for a very literal bleakness, he's honed his lyrical imagery to convey the melancholy.Past Life is definitely an unexpected step forward for the band, typified by the driving beat and guitars on the title track.
Lost in the Trees' last album, A Church That Fits Our Needs, was a somber and lush reflection on singer/songwriter Ari Picker's mother's death. It carved out an expansive space to explore emotions and depth, and they filled that space beautifully. It's kind of a hard album to follow—so rich in substance and personal meaning. With Past Life, Picker's response was apparently to peel back the musical layers and see what remains.
Truth be told, Lost in the Trees has never been a band that’s easily categorised. Their orchestrated sound often made them appear somewhat amorphous, and even when there was obvious inspiration — borne in themes of loss and separation mostly — the band’s frontman, Ari Picker, generally seemed intent on keeping the music at arm’s length from the listener. That’s especially true here, and even though the group has been pared down to a quartet from a six-piece for this, the follow-up to the anguished A Church That Fits Our Needs, that ghostly half light still remains intact.