After a month-long hiatus, I’m back in D.C. and back to blogging. If you need a break from Christmas carols during that long drive home for the holidays, try Lord Huron. Their music helped a friend and me hold on to our sanity during a ridiculously long bus ride through Cambodia (as she remarked while putting in the earbuds, “we gotta get our Zen on”). Lord Huron will be back in D.C. in the new year (this time as the headlining act!), so give them a listen now and then snag a ticket to their show at the 9:30 Club on February 6, 2014.
With a name like “Lord Huron,” you might expect heavy metal that assaults your senses. What you get instead are shimmering harmonies about the beauty of nature and the foolishness of the human heart. As it turns out, the founding member of the L.A.-based indie folk band grew up on the shores of Lake Huron. It makes sense, then, that Ben Schneider would borrow the name of one of the Great Lakes for music that lyrically and melodically evokes wide open spaces, with layered instrumentation that ripples and fades like concentric circles radiating from a pebble tossed into water.
Lord Huron infuses their folk pop with polyrhythmic twists that keep the music interesting while preserving its ethereal quality. “Lonesome Dreams,” released earlier this year, is a perfect album for December days when the earth is covered in forgetful snow. Think of early mornings when the streets are empty and snowflakes swirl in the wind and dust the ground with white. Those serene, newly-minted mornings — that’s the peaceful prettiness that I associate with Lord Huron’s music.
As concert-goers know, sometimes the cost of a spot near the stage is having to suffer through the opening band. But in September, when Lord Huron supported Alt-J on a tour that included two sold-out nights at the 9:30 Club, I was pretty darn excited about being up close and personal for both the opener and the headliner.
Lord Huron did not disappoint. They performed most of their debut album, including “Time to Run,” which skips along with the assistance of bongos and cymbals, and “Ends of the Earth,” which paints a panorama with “a river that winds on forever” and “a mountain that no man has mounted.” One of the things I find most intriguing about the Mumford-led folk revival is that the musical roots are embedded in landscapes and cultures that must be rather alien to the city-reared, iPhone-wielding hipsters who can’t get enough of banjos and suspenders. The West was won and the wilderness tamed long before we were born, so why does the music appeal to so many of us? If we go on the theory that the frontier is within, Lord Huron guides us through these existential turns on the road:
I been dreaming again of a lonesome world
Where I’m lost and I’m on my own
What am I destined to be? It’s a mystery baby
Just please don’t leave me alone.
These words seem trite on the screen, but the music transforms them into something relatable and, dare I say, magical.
“Lonesome Dreams,” a personal favorite, conjures up memories of places and faces. Maybe it appeals to me because I’m at that age when we make an accounting of friendships forged and relationships forgone, of homes found and places left behind:
I walk on a winding road
In the deep of the night, near the edge of the known
I pass by a moonlit lake
And a cold wind blows and my bones start to shake
And I feel I should know this place
As the road winds on into wide-open space
The wind plays a haunting tone
As I make my way through the night all alone.
Pitchfork panned Lord Huron’s sound as unimaginative and safe. I get the comparison to Fleet Foxes, but Lord Huron offers more than soaring choirboy harmonies. Some of the rhythmic shifts catch you by surprise, some songs employ Eastern instrumentation (listen to the intro of “Time to Run”), and the overall effect is expansive, dreamy, and uniquely captivating.
“To the end, to the end, will you follow me,” Ben Schneider sings. If they continue making music like this, Lord Huron will have no shortage of followers.