One of the greatest pleasures afforded to us from writing about music, for a blog, a paper or a webzine like this is that it allows to us to trace an act from their smallest first baby steps sometimes towards greater (sometimes deserved) recognition. It makes all the hours of wading through mediocre to poor demo recordings, worthwhile! A few such occasion arose with the receipt of North East dream weavers Lanterns on the Lake’s first EP’s a few years back now, they were like love letters: hand stamped with a wax seal and prepared with care they depicted an act bursting with quality, subtle instrumental shifts and sighing melodic shivers. Before long the standard of their recorded material and the magisterial nature of their live performances caught the ear of one Simon Raymonde head of the Bella Union outfit who quickly and wisely snaffled them up.
Their debut album is less a long player of songs, more a living breathing entity: hushed male/female vocals, drenched in magical reverb are with sewn delicate, subtle instrumental shifts whilst brittle elctronics flicker in the background. Enveloping each listener that encounters them like a warm blanket in the dead of winter.
These songs cacoon you in their own orbit as microscopic epiphanies that encapsulate both desolation and the life affirming: that one can almost see a light at the end of a tunnel. Sure you could justifiably make the point that the Lanterns soundscapes aren’t exactly original: rustling as they do with the ghosts of the country tinged majesty of Mazzy Star, the pared back almost post rock arrangements of Low, and even the evocative memories of mid period Kate Bush.But ‘Gracious Tide, Take Me Home’ is a work of immense achievement elevated by their now more lavish studio surrounds but never over come by them. From it’s first pulsing signs of life on opener ‘Lungs Breath’ characterised by Hazel’s sighing vocals and orchestatrtated sweeps that clutch you close so you can feel the exhale, to the almost conversational follow up ‘If I’ve Been Unkind’’are gracefully lead by Lanterns male half Paul, it’s the Lanterns deft song writing skill that ultimately wins out.
As we creep into that season there’s an apt winteryness to the production here too, like human heat clapsing up to you against the coldest storms.The warming tones of ‘Keep On Trying’ twinkle and creek with grand almost Sigur Ros like textures that twitch and tease the orchestration towards effortlessly gorgeousness that gasps at redemption. ‘Ships In The Rain’ stands on the shore at midnight, Hazel’s haunted vocals left isolated and torn except for the waves of backing vox, she tells tales of sailors at sea who may never come home ‘ships in the rain until we meet again’ she coos. ‘Blankets of Leaves’ opens with a sleepy single guitar motif, piano keys are brushed as this feminine lullaby bristles wit gracefulness that rather surprisingly builds towards a heartfelt confessional ‘I haven’t felt the same till I fell from his arms/ and it turned me into stone’ subtle, graceful and therapeutic: it’s the pivotal moment on this record, and encapsulates it’s power to affect a listener beyond their muted sound. Sure this can some lulls but It’s this almost the Lanterns celestial ability to set that tone over the entire piece that affords Lanterns on the Lake your enraptured attention throughout.It’s not quite one paced either, the stabbing strings of ‘Tricks’ buckle up for a journey across cascading landscapes, driven forth by clip clopping militaristic beats.
But it’s still in their quietest moments Lanterns on the Lake are most comfortable though “I see a spark in you ‘ emotes Hazel on the wintry tones of ‘You’re Almost There’ that’s melody even has unintentional echoes of ‘True Colours’. Thankfully it’s far from a bombastic ballad, it’s brushed ivories and naked vocals are brittle while in it’s final astouding minute mournful clouds of orchestral arrangements scurry across the backlit skies. Piercing, touching it never out stays it’s welcome.
To wacth a band fulfil it’s potential from homemade demo EP to being signed is one thing, it’s quite another for a act to grasp that opportunity to produce a long player that not only lives up to their initial recordings, but to surpass them in scope and ambition. Lanterns on the Lake have done that and invited us into their open hearts for the briefest time, I urge you to pull up a pew and drink in ‘Gracious Tide, Take Me Home’ for half an hour or more, it might just lead you towards a safer place too.