album of the week
(Play it again Sam)
Some musicians have an unerring ability to capture a sense of place in the listener's mind. Every time I hear the epic music of Sigur Ros, I can't help but imagine the wondrous landscape of their native Iceland – even though I've never been to the country.
It's a similar story with Lord Huron, the stately nom de plume of comparative newcomer Ben Schneider.
He's a Michigan native whose obsession with the wide open spaces of America's "frontier land" informs the compellingly captured songs on this highly assured debut album.
Lonesome Dreams evokes those prairies, canyons and deserts that fuel the popular imagination of the Wild West. His songs are peopled by drifters in harsh terrains, yet there's a defiant beauty in his widescreen ruminations.
Schneider's brand of folk is rooted in a venerable American tradition, but there are contemporary touches too, whether it's the occasional – and unexpected – use of sitar or the way he layers texture à la Bon Iver.
Schneider also shares Fleet Foxes' communion with nature and several of his songs glory in the unspoilt, largely uninhabited tracts of land that have resisted the inexorable sprawl of the suburbs.
Ends of the Earth captures this sense of isolation especially well and in its largely acoustic parameters, it's one of several songs that demonstrates the singer's Americana fixations.
The striking, if subdued Ghost on the Shore is especially evocative, although Schneider's line "I was born on the lake and I don't want to leave" suggests an appreciation for his own state of Michigan.
Elsewhere, he proves to have a deft touch on the delicate, aptly titled Lullaby, while The Man Who Lives Forever is a pulse-quickening slice of alt-country built around playful percussion.
Lonesome Dreams is not without the odd weak, half-baked track. But for the most part Ben Schneider has crafted a quietly ambitious, well-crafted album that's bound to get him noticed on this side of the pond.
KEY TRACKS Ghost on the Shore; Ends of the Earth