The use of classical tones in indie music is hardly a new phenomenon. We’ve all heard string and wood ensembles make appearances in folk bands, creating an end result that is sometimes delightful, but many times tacky and overproduced.
But when it comes to Chapel Hill N.C.’s Lost in the Trees, the use of the classical sound delves way deeper than a couple half-realized cello solos, and attempts to fuse the heart of classical music with a folk-pop sound.
The band began as a solo effort by frontman Ari Picker, who is also involved in a band called The Never. Picker worked with a group of nine musicians for the release of the bands first EP, Time Taunts Me, in 2007 with the help of Trekky Records and the University of North Carolina. The lengthy EP showcased what critics called “orchestral pop.” The second album, All Alone in an Empty House, was originally released as a limited LP in 2008, this time with an expansive set including a full string section, horn section and additional vocal talent. Thanks to the persistence of Picker and the help of a new label, Anti-Records, it was re-released last month with a couple extra tracks and as a full-length album. Hurray!
The full-length’s title accurately captures the general atmosphere of the album, making you feel as if you were navigating some empty North Carolinian estate. It manages to simultaneously be quaint and haunting. The first track opens on a quiet note, soothing listeners with simple guitar picking and the gentle tenor of Picker’s voice. But it quickly builds on itself and by the end Picker’s tiny yet appreciable singing is joined by the tense striking of a string quartet and the cryptic echoes of a saw and a female backup singer.
This is the general pace of the album, taking listeners on a rollercoaster of simple folk tunes and quivering ensembles, all led by the symphonic genius of the crew. Picker’s lyrics are heavily romanticized, declaring “I’m so selfless here,” in All Alone in an Empty House, “To all those with broken hearts/ I know what you’re going through,” in The Song for the Painter, and “I’ve got love songs, I’ve got songs that can make you cry,” in Love on My Side. These lines may read as dull and cliché, but somehow manage to fit in seamlessly in the context of the album.
If the band captured you the way it did me, it might be worth mentioning that their original label plans to re-release Time Taunts Me as a re-mastered LP early next year. As for the rest of you, I recommend ripping this beauty from the studio, settling down under the Palouse sun (while it is still there) and letting it carry you to sleep.