45:11 min • Play It Again Sam • January 21, 2013
Lord Huron’s Lonesome Dreams opens with ‘Ends Of The Earth’, an atmospheric track that instantly conjures up vast American vistas and images of lonely cowboys crossing dusty lands with nothing but a horse, a gun and a tune to hum. Lord Huron (aka Ben Schneider) has succeeded in creating a cinematic sound topped off by his Springsteen-esque vocals, but despite a few unusual flourishes (a more pop feel on the album’s title track and gamelan on ‘The Man Who Lives Forever’), the album becomes a triumph of style over substance, with the epic Wild West sound whitewashing out any variety between the songs. Despite evoking the ideas of travel, this journeyman seems to take us in circles through a dream-like state that sadly becomes soporific all too soon.
‘Lonesome Dreams’ was inspired by the imagined writings of Schneider’s own cowboy creation ‘George Ranger Johnson’, and despite the group’s proven popularity as displayed by a recent string of sold out London shows and rave reviews from other quarters, personally I can’t see their cowboy schtick lasting convincingly for more than one record. As it is, by the end of the album it feels like we are listening to grown men playing dress up. Had Lord Huron appeared before the meteoric rise of Mumford & Sons or The Lumineers, their sound might have seemed more original and convincing, but as they are covering not too dissimilar territory as those other more successful folk-tinged cowboys, it’s hard not to see them as also-rans rather than trailblazers.
Closing track ‘In The Wind’ feels a perfect example of a song that given a different mix would make more of its twirling strings with their suggestion of the Far East rather than the West. Instead, they are drowned out by the tambourine and shaker combo that rattles relentlessly through almost every track, along with the plaintive coyote-like vocals that seem to want to suggest yearning but instead become an annoying and repetitive tourettes-like production tic. Harmony wise, the vocals feel arranged in the same way on every song, which makes for a cohesive sound but means that they all sound far too similar to each other. Alongside these problems with arrangement, the polish added to the album which at first sounds impressive, betrays one of the major flaws with the material. It’s hard to believe that Schneider and his ‘amigos’ have really ‘searched the world’ or ‘crossed the desert’ as their sound is far too clean to suggest the dirt and grit involved.
Lonesome Dreams feels like a project that has been made with great passion and is well played and put together, but rather than paint with his palette sparingly, Schneider has used all his colours at once on every sonic canvas to create an ultimately unwelcoming landscape.
Perhaps by exploring some of the more unusual aspects of his influences in greater depth, Schneider could create something more varied and less contrived. For a more entertaining (albeit definitely more comedic) take on Wild West heroes, listeners could do better to watch Nicholas Gurewitch’s ‘Trails of Tarnation’ series on YouTube.