22 Feb 2018
Lake Ruth - Birds of America
I started my research for this review by listening to Lake Ruth guitarist Hewson Chen's other band, The New Lines. As I swooned to the intricacies of the fantastic song “Weatherman’s Apology”, I hear the commonalities with Lake Ruth. You see, the body of work presented herein and every other song I have heard by the marvelous Lake Ruth is glowing and gorgeous, painted with an ethereal, otherworldly light that I find it hard to describe adequately. The music transports you to a dream state infused with warmth and light that is both rare and precious. It is like stumbling upon a one of a kind gem and holding it fast lest it get away from you. While I want to share my affection for this band with the world, I also am tempted to keep it close.
Lake Ruth formed with two members of The New Lines (Hewson and Matt Schulz the drummer) and vocalist Allison Brice (The Eighteenth Day of May). They now have two full lengths and a smattering of EPs and singles. All are available from their Bandcamp page and should be imbibed as the musical crack that it is. But wait, what does the music sound like beyond the superlatives I am tossing down? I think it’s an amalgamation of all the best psych pop, folk, and dream pop you have heard down through the years, along with an almost tropical and sunny feel in spots. This band’s music listening cuts a wide swath through many styles, as I happen to know they adore Beautify Junkyards, Stereolab, Fairport Convention (they’ve covered "Tam Lin") and lots of soundtracks. They seem highly intelligent and two members love cats (Allison is allergic).
My response to "Birds of America" will be based on what I feel when I listen, rather than a technical dissection of each note, how it was recorded, and what influenced it. That is not how I operate, and I have only a layman’s knowledge of Krautrock or Hauntology. So I won’t be citing any sources, and won’t be dredging the lyrics for hidden meaning. Because you see, for me, this record is a sensory engagement, one best experienced by you the listener. Of course, the dichotomy between some of the dark lyrical elements and the sprightly melodies can be a bit startling, as is Allison’s unusually lovely, chipper vocals. So take that however it works for you, and strap in for a delicately rendered, exquisite ride through ten great tunes.
It starts off with the cool, fey strains of “VV”, meshing intricate instrumentation with what sounds like an oboe. And when Allison chimes in, the transition from the mortal realm to the hollow hills is complete. “Julia’s Call” is more immediate, and one of the first singles from this record. It reminds one of the aforementioned Beautify Junkyards, albeit with a faster pace and a care given to meticulous production and playing. “One of Your Own” veers into the same retro territory inhabited by Death and Vanilla and other purveyors of this genre. Fast moving synth lines wrap around spacey guitar and Allison swoops in between this fine tapestry of sound. “The Cross of Lorraine” is another favorite of mine, and it’s quite possibly the best song on this record. It sucks you straight in with Allison’s siren song and an appealing mesh of guitar and synths. “Radiant City” expertly combines bright, jazzy keys and guitar, and you’ll find yourself bobbing along with a smile on your face. The title track is an impressive example of psych filtered through noirish dream pop. Its expansiveness lend a cinematic air that I find greatly appealing. I can envision the Mother ship touching down as this marvel of a tune unfolds. And that unusual shading you hear on “Under the Waning Moon” is a mellotron, which melds perfectly with the somewhat unsettling but enthralling music. “Walter and the Taxi” is another favorite tune of mine, both for the Byrdsian guitar and the way it nestles around your ears like a favorite comforter. And I really dig the bubbles of synth that flit through the mix. “White Wall” is a glistening psych folk gem, and the ornate but trippy backdrop suits it perfectly. The hook at its heart will grab hold and never let go. “Westway” ends it all, and its shining jangle pop should be a hit. A fine conclusion to a magical and mystical journey through the hearts and minds of this wonderful band.
Vinyl and digital available here: