Lord Huron-Lonesome Dreams (2012, Iamsound)
When I was a freshman in college (so spring of 2014, I guess), I pulled three all-nighters within the span of a week in order to study for finals. I had never experienced anything like it; I holed myself up in the basement of my shitty dorm for hours on end, chugging 7/11 coffee and taking short breaks to watch my roommate chain smoke cigarettes outside the building. Before this week of doom, I had put together a Youtube playlist filled with music I had never listened to before, so that I’d have something to guide me through. While I searched for most of the music based on recommendations, a video popped up in my Youtube suggestions for a song called “The Stranger” (off the 2010 EP Mighty) by Lord Huron, who I thought was a rapper for some reason; I added it to the list. Lord Huron is anything but rap, but “The Stranger,” a hazy 6 minute rush of slide guitar, whistlin’, and lively hand drums, became one of my favorite songs. To this day, I don’t think there has been a Lord Huron song that matches it. However, Lonesome Dreams is a nice slice of folky pop music, incredibly polished for a formerly solo bedroom musician on an indie label.
I’ll get this out of the way first: Lord Huron has transformed from a “my little secret” band to a bit of a guilty pleasure ever since “The Night We Met” (from 2015’s Strange Trails) was featured on the Netflix original 13 Reasons Why, otherwise known as the show that inspired tweens all over America to research suicide on the internet. I had always wondered why Lord Huron (the passion project of LA multi-instrumentalist Ben Schneider) wasn’t more widely known. Foot-stompin’ English folkies Mumford and Sons blew up in the late 2000s, and Lord Huron seems like an act that could have followed in their footsteps. Both groups are accessible, with catchy melodies delivered by sensitive, bearded singers, and incorporate just enough rustic Americana to differentiate themselves from other groups you hear on so-called alt radio (i.e. Imagine Dragons, 21 Pilots). Other groups like The Lumineers and X Ambassadors became popular in the wake of Mumford, but Lord Huron never got to that level. There are several reasons for this relative lack of mainstream exposure.
1. Ben Schneider is kind of a dork. I mean that in the most affectionate way possible, but hear this: Lonesome Dreams is based on a series of books by George Ranger Johnson, a fictional author created by Schneider. He has a website and everything, you can look it up. Schneider sings of moonlit lakes, deserts whose size can’t be measured, sacred dunes, etc, not exactly the kind of relationship ballads you hear from Mumford and the like. His lyrics are unabashedly anachronistic; you can imagine them being sung by a person who plays a traveling folksinger at a Civil War reenactment, or something. 2. Where Mumford, The Lumineers, etc aim for the stadium, Lord Huron’s music is a bit more intimate. There are certainly “epic” moments, but the scale is smaller. In fact, many of these songs convey an air of loneliness or solitude, a one-man-against-the-world kind of vibe. Lonesome Dreams’s cover art encapsulates the feeling: a lone figure atop his horse viewed from afar, riding through a desert with a crescent moon above his head.
The songs on Lonesome Dreams are all fairly similar to each other; Schneider has his lane picked out, and he holds to it, both musically and lyrically. There are fast gallops (“Time To Run,” “Brother (Last Ride)” and slow ballads (“The Ghost On The Shore,” “In The Wind.”) “Time To Run” and “Lullaby” both describe characters on the lam from unspecified peril; we don’t know what they did, but we know it’s bad. “Ends of the Earth,” “She Lit A Fire,” “I Will Be Back One Day,” and “In The Wind” all describe a man who has lost a woman, be it through distance, death, or who-knows, and is waiting for either her return to him or his return to her. Most songs address either nature or ramblin’/runnin’/wanderin’, topics one would expect from a fictional author whose middle name is Ranger. All of those comments make it sound like I’m belittling Lord Huron, but it’s more a playful ribbing. As formulaic as the music is, it works.
The percussion on Lonesome Dreams is probably the album’s most interesting aspect. Rather than relying on a traditional rock drum kit, these songs incorporate some (for lack of a better word) world music rhythms, with hand drums, maracas, tambourines, etc. Most of the songs have a strong sense of movement, with “The Man Who Lives Forever” grooving in its own folksy and wistful way. Schneider harmonizes with himself via overdubs throughout the album, giving the music a sense of richness. Lyrically, he goes right for the listener’s heartstrings, but damn it, is he successful. The sense of melancholic wonder on the title track is palpable when Schneider sings, “I feel I should know this place/As the tree line breaks into wide open space/I stare at a bright red sun/Though I search all day, I never find anyone,” and I’ll admit that I’ve gotten choked up when he mourns, “Death is a wall but it can’t be the end/You were my protector and my best friend,” as the music swells on the closing track “In The Wind” (which bears a passing resemblance to Death Cab’s “Transatlanticism” and was also sampled in a Make-Will-Made-It beat)
In the end, the nonspecific and impersonal nature of the lyrics is what holds the album back from being truly great. You get the sense that Schneider is playing a character as opposed to shining a light into his own psyche, but that is kind of the point of Lord Huron. It’s escapist music designed to sound like it’s coming from a different, simpler time, and I’ll always appreciate Lonesome Dreams even if I think it’s a step down from Schneider’s earlier work. Now, I know they’re a’comin’ for me for what I done, so into the night I must ride, but I will be back.
Check out “George Ranger Johnson”‘s website: http://www.georgerangerjohnson.com/