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“Just throw my bones in a hole in the ground” -- Lord Huron's spectral harmonies

by Nolan Cella and Paul Cella

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Let’s say as things now stand your interests in music run toward the ethereal and harmonic sector of Americana. Put more picturesquely, imagine yourself in the mood for some cool and moody indie-rock from the Old Northwest Territory.

Perhaps for the moment you prefer the gigantic mild skies, the Great Lakes, the bitter winters: this you prefer to the sunbaked woods of rockabilly or country or swampy Southern blues. Your heart yearns for the Northwest Ordinance, not the Mason-Dixon Line.

Why, you could hardly do better than give Lord Huron a listen. Led by the golden-tongued Michigander Ben Schneider, the band takes their name from the third largest of the Great Lakes.

Third largest? Affirmative. It turns out that Lake Huron is nothing less than the world’s third largest lake; and given its extraordinary proliferation of tangled inlets and islands, by some measures this inland monster has more freshwater shoreline than any body of water on earth. Exceeded only in water volume by its siblings Superior and Michigan, Old Man Huron is a lord of waters indeed.

Lord Huron the band plays music that resembles the expanse of the Great Lakes: vast and mysterious, seductive and formidable. Now based in L.A., these guys have carved out a nice little niche for themselves in the constellation of American music. Each of their three albums, Lonesome Dreams (2012), Strange Trails (2015), and last year’s Vide Noir, represents a successful foray into a kind of atmospheric grove-rock sound that leans on harmonies and chiming guitars to enchant the listener. On stage, the band projects a professionalism that is occasionally broken by a contagious burst of wild emotion. They portray the world of a shaman telling tales of mythical vision-quests while instilling wisdom on life and manhood; a lively image of the world in this confused era.

Lyrically, Lord Huron evokes the wandering mind of a lonesome fur trapper lost in the Canadian wilderness. He might be a native French-speaker; after all, Michigan is full of French resonances and Schneider spent a year in France.

This Francophile philosopher-frontiersman’s thoughts drift to past defeats -- the girl who got away, the guy who stood in his way. It’s rough justice in the Old Northwest. “Let’s step outside and I’ll show you why.”

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As he travels from the frozen shores of Hudson Bay to the fur trading forts on the Great Lakes, hauling his pelts as luxurious coats for the high society of New York and London, the trapper ponders the pure black void of space. As he travels under the glorious colors of the Aurora Borealis his mind shifts toward the astral plane (whatever that might be). Meanwhile, his mount traverses the frozen pines in cold silence. He hears the river whisper of La Belle Fleur Sauvage.

Once he’s gazed upon her
A man is forever changed
The bravest men return
With darkened hearts
And phantom pain

While Lord Huron’s first two albums trace the life of a lonely trapper both in style and theme, their most recent effort seems to take a two and half century leap, from a pre-Revolutionary frontier story by James Fenimore Cooper, to a noir setting of life in 1955 Los Angeles. In this Raymond Chandler-esque modern vision, lonely men cope with lost love through heavily poured old fashions in smokey lounges, visits to the fortune-teller, or by stalking the city at night on the verge of insanity. This may sound like a dramatic change. On the contrary, Lord Huron, following Schneider’s creative leadership, is able to maintain an impressive level of continuity across their three records, while subtly evolving the style.

Like many bands in the digital era, subject to the shifting foundations of the music business, Lord Huron find that the best way to expand their audience and make money is through touring. They recently wrapped up a grueling schedule that ran back to March 2018, just prior to release of Vide Noir in April.

One of your correspondents was fortunate enough to catch the show in Brooklyn in August 2018. Schneider and company did not disappoint. Their show entertained with a lively energy and creativity. The show opened with a stylish Twilight Zone-style intro video; the “emerald in the sky” presided over the entire concert hall. It loomed above the band throughout, summoning the crowd toward the Vide Noir. The band took their fans on a tour from newer material to older stuff, which was complemented by ingenious video, lights and imagery.

In the live show Schnieder succeeded as frontman; he orchestrated with passion and enthusiasm. He and his bandmates have a wonderful rapport. Each band member adds a key element of unique character to the act. Miguel Briseno sets the tone on bass and adds a spark of the supernatural, playing the theremin in select songs. Tom Renaud & Brandon Walters as the dual guitarists compliment each other superbly. Misty Boyce’s keys and added vocals infuse depth and emotion. Mark Barry holds it all together with his sprightly percussion work. The next time these guys are on tour: go see them. You may be lucky to find they're on the road in promotion of a new album.

Poetic and celestial, Lord Huron’s music gets in amongst you. The lyrics and groove combine superbly to stimulate the insecure emotions so deeply connected to love, loss, and the precarious yearning to brave the unknown.

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Now, if you are ready to get lost on the lake and follow the emerald in the sky, have a listen to these songs for your initial foray into Lord Huron:

Lonesome Dreams:

She Lit A Fire -- In typical LH fashion this songs takes us on a journey. It’s an upbeat and heart-warming love tale; a fine example of the foundational folk style of Lord Huron. Almost a bluegrass tune but not quite because of the otherworldly sound that permeates much of their catalogue. If you’ve ever been in love this song does a pretty dang good job to expressing what it feels like.

Time to Run -- A fast paced song that begs for dancing. The sound of the speedy rhythm guitar and the tambourine express an urgency and energy that makes you smile. Couples should dance as if it is their last. Enjoy the interlude for a soft slow dance; a hug, a kiss. Don't get caught and strung up, because it's time to run.

Strange Trails:

La Belle Fleur Sauvage -- A beautiful folk homage to a wildflower, or to a girl: the ambiguity remains unresolved. The plucking bassline takes you right into the honky tonk. The guitar’s grand sound harkens to legend and fable. The way the band kicks, from chorus to guitar riff, and then, with a single down-beat, right into the 4th verse, manages to catch the listener as an unexpected delight. “I’m meant to find the place where all good things begin” -- few more profound and ringing truths have been sung.

The Night We Met -- This song starts with some great lyrics; they’re the kind of words that just connect with people. The female vocals that open the song create a fantastic feel. The melodic guitar sounds like a lullaby. This one just hits the heart. The rhythm of the vocals is superb: “I don’t know what I’m ‘sposed to do haunted by the ghost of you.” It comes as no surprise that this is their most streamed song on Spotify by a long shot. Catchy but not annoying, the lyrics feature an elusive quality that rewards repeat listens.


Vide Noir:

Wait By The River -- The ringing chime of the piano in this tune suggests the doowop of the 1950s, but it wouldn't be Lord Huron without a celestial overtone. What man hasn't said some deeply hurtful things to the one he loves? Regret can tear a man apart; will he ever be forgiven? Without forgiveness, life is meaningless. The pitch black sky; the void, is it a better alternative?

If we can't be together, I will leave this world behind
If I can't touch your body, can I touch the sky?

When the Night is Over -- The bassline and ticking tom intimate a mysterious cityscape. With the female vocals and the signature guitar riffs, the song draws you through a murky and familiar tale. Many a young man has spent an evening consuming an abundance of alcohol and met a young woman who seemed like the exact perfect fit. Yet for fear, or arrogance, or happenstance this young man loses track of his new love. He never made a move to try and express how he feels. When she vanishes, off to another yokel, he realizes he missed his chance. What ensues is the young man wandering the city streets late at night, searching, and all the while knowing that she will vanish with the sun when the night is over.

Vide Noir -- Once lost to love, this young man now gets lost in the abyss. Since love has slipped away, his mind and emotions follow. He hears the call into the Vide Noir -- the pure black void. He raises hell with the boys. He's lost. The bass guitar gives this song an ominous feeling; simultaneously, the tempo is inviting. The murky audio effects that predominate here provide a good example of their evolution into noir. Ethereal and funky, the music tells a dark, cautionary tale.

With that playlist in hand, we will leave you with a well-produced video of a short Lord Huron show from a few years back.


Comments (3)

I was at that same performance in August 2018. I've seen LH live two or three times, and they always sounded brilliant. Nothing sounded out of balance, unlike most shows I go to where either the vocalist is drowned out by the drums or the bass is drowned out by everything else.

One of my favorites, "Meet Me in the Woods", was the only one that I didn't think was that great during live performances due to lack of the female backup (Jessica Maros) that is on the album version. Ben has definitely improved on it between the time I heard it on the Strange Trails tour and the opening of the Vide Noir tour, though.

As far as recommended songs, I'm surprised you didn't add "The Ghost on the Shore" from Lonesome Dreams, but I strongly concur with the recommendation of "When the Night is Over" from Vide Noir.

Third largest? Affirmative. It turns out that Lake Huron is nothing less than the world’s third largest lake; and given its extraordinary proliferation of tangled inlets and islands, by some measures this inland monster has more freshwater shoreline than any body of water on earth. Exceeded only in water volume by its siblings Superior and Michigan, Old Man Huron is a lord of waters indeed.

I am going to be pendantic for just a moment, and point out that the Great Caspian Lake (err, let's call it the "Caspian Sea" for now) is arguably the largest lake: it has more than 4 times the surface area (90M acres vs 18M acres) and 6 times the water as Lake Superior (18K cubic miles vs 2.9K cubic miles).

"But it's a sea!" you say? Well, is it? it's land-locked, like lakes. The main issue is salinity: it is true that Caspian is very salty - for a lake. But let's put that in perspective: there are LOTS of "lakes" that are far more salty, such as the Great Salt Lake. In practical terms, the Caspian's salinity ranges from 1.0 parts per thousand in the north (near its main tributary, the Volga) to 13 parts per thousand in the south. The ocean has about 35 ppt. Lake Superior has about .06 ppt, which is really low even for a lake. Lots of lakes have salinity above that, but most of them that are FAR above are known as "salt lakes" of one variety or another. Lake Titicaca in Bolivia has about 5 ppt.

If we were to take only the most northern 1/4 of the Caspian, it would still be larger than Lake Superior and probably range from 1 ppt to about 3 ppt in salinity.

As for me, I am fine with continuing to call the Caspian a sea, as we always used to call it. I have enough American pride to want the Great Lakes to be biggest. But I wouldn't be surprised if other languages call it a lake, and don't be taken by surprise in a Q&A contest if they try to stump you with "the largest lake" question.

Fair enough, Tony. Pedantry is always welcome among my friends.

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