Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Review: A Church That Fits Our Needs by Lost in the Trees

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Lost in the Trees creates lush and expansive chamber pop – with a relatively simple palette: percussion, acoustic guitar, bass, strings, piano, and not much else. While their sound shares characteristics with Emily Wells, Regina Spektor, and the like (albeit with a male voice), particularly in how songs spiral off in unexpected directions, they create their own sound with lovely, sweet falsetto vocals, and by adding subtle and distinctive musical accents and experimental touches. This moving and unique sound is highlighted to beautiful effect on A Church That Fits Our Needs, their second studio album, a collection of melancholy tunes inspired by the suicide of songwriter Ari Picker’s mother.

Listen to a track like “Golden Eyelids.” On the surface, it’s a straightforward ballad. Add a string figure that swirls up and down like something you’d expect to hear when Dorothy's house spins away in the tornado in The Wizard of Oz, and you end up with something dreamy and slightly sinister.

The band uses percussion in interesting and odd ways to enhance songs. On “Neither Here Nor There,” it sounds like someone let a child loose with drumsticks, randomly hitting anything available. It’s a bit jarring at first, but eventually makes sense in the context of the song. Combined with subtle 16th notes on a bass and what sounds like someone running a drumstick over piano strings, it makes the song that much more interesting. On “Tall Ceilings,” there’s a drum-pad bit that, combined with an acoustic arpeggio, gives the song a Radiohead feel. A rapidly struck small cymbal completes the effect. And “Garden” is the most uptempo and driving piece on the album with a stew of percussion and electronic noise.

Their experimentation is often quite subtle, such as the cawing of a crow and the off-kilter piano notes that lead into the orchestral “Icy River” or the hiss of an old record and snippets of sound opening “Villain (I’ll Stick Around).” These two songs, along with “This Dead Bird Is Beautiful” and “The Artist’s Song” showcase Picker’s expressive, lovely and clear voice. They are also, not coincidentally, the most moving tunes on the album.

A Church That Fits Our Needs is up there with The Antlers’ Hospice as a record of someone dying sooner than they should, the complexities and mixed emotions that come with it. That it does this without being maudlin or depressing is a testament to the band’s considerable musical gifts.

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