Lord Huron and the Blurring of Time
Los Angeles folk band Lord Huron's lead singer Ben Schneider is what I imagine Paul Bunyan would sound like if he gave singing a try. Like Bunyan, Schneider conveys himself as a centerpiece of folk tradition. He chronicles scenic tall tales that are as enticing as the ample, alluring terrain he gorgeously describes and roams freer than the birds he passes. Schneider encompasses the same jaunty adventurism as Fleet Foxes' own Bunyan clone Robin Pecknold, and the warmly poetic absurdism of Father John Misty. With every detail unveiled from his voyager perspective, Lord Huron's fourth studio album "Long Lost" is brimming with captivating folk ballads.
Inspired by the prolonged, fuzzy history of the group's decrepit recording studio Whispering Pines (which they found abandoned a decade earlier), Schneider says the stories that define "Long Lost" are a "combination of truth and fiction." Their adventures are bridged together with interludes from a fictional musical variety television show "Alive From Whispering Pines," which is framed like a rugged version of "American Bandstand."
More than anything else, "Long Lost" is a regretful tale of a youthful and enthusiastic adventurer turned dead-tired traveler. Schnieder positions himself as a modern-day frontiersman wracked with regret and doubt who years ago ventured into the forest Alexander Supertramp-style. His decision to leave for "the coast" meant departing his home for lake drops, mountain tops, and truck stops. Yet no matter how far he wanders, Schneider recalls getting drawn back to his quiet town. He croons for forbidden love, one that only would've worked if everything was left behind. In the end, he left and his betrothed lover stayed. All of his coping selections (booze, dope, gambling) can be traced back to this fateful decision that's left him dejected and cynical. The only moment where there's even a glimmer of hope is "Not Dead Yet" which remains upbeat and embraces solace in existence.
Despite this brief enthusiasm, the pain makes Schneider count the time that's passing and life becomes something that he analyzes on numerous tracks. The glistening "Twenty Long Years Ago" is slow and sadly reminiscent. His voice is stained with regret. "Love Me Like You Used To" sees him soiled and longing, with all his agony still unsettled and owing to love gone wrong. He sings "I can't erase the day that I went and left you." He's tried everything to erase it, though it still lingers. To reckon with his guilt, Schnieder begins describing the scenery. The album's title track is especially evocative with his portrayal of the natural as he wishes to be left alone, singing "Leave me where the light pours down / Through the trees like rain / Let it wash over me like a flood / Let it ease my pain."
There are times when it's hard to differentiate what's inside Schneider's head and how much is invention. "I Lied" and "At Sea" pose entrancing, dream-like fantasies. They're far from cheerful but both expand on the loss cited in the earlier tracks and the soothing, wistful production plays out like a hallucination. The further the album proceeds, the more Schneider's wishes for a resolution, and when piecing all his time together, his past begins to cloud. "What Do it Mean" poses the question "what does it mean if it all means nothing?" Schneider is contemplating if life is worth going through, whether the achievements left behind are hollow, and whether he's made the right choices. After hearing so many tales of ache and regret, it's unsurprising that his fears have ventured into the validity of rational thought.
In all respects, "Long Lost" is breathtaking existential. It illustrates how singular experiences translate to the essence behind the entire human condition. Schneider ponders the significance of his reality, even calling his past a "chain that won't ever let me go." He is extremely evocative of the emotional and physical terrain he encounters, which often becomes interchangeable and elicits a genuine pioneer charm. When the acoustics are allowed to ride out and take center stage, this attraction goes far beyond words. This is made especially clear on the closing instrumental track, "Time's Blur," which is a whopping fourteen minutes. Its length can be interpreted as how slowly time passes with intermittent points of excitement and celebratory finds.
Listening to this album reminds me of how I felt after watching "Inside Llewyn Davis." Stumbling upon the correct timing in the pursuit of art, love or satisfaction is a battle that can take an entire lifetime. It's an idea that runs deep in folk music and is ever-present in both of these art pieces. Even in dark times, uncertainty can be achingly beautiful, and hopefully, all the eventful stories will be told.