by Hadley Tomicki
Baltimore alternalists Lake Trout play visceral rock that you feel as much as rock to. Guitars buzz and grind, pulsing drums transport the subconscious to higher planes and Woody Ranere echoes his paranoid ruminations within gorgeous whispers and crys in Beatles-esque choruses. Swirling harmonies and experimental sonics chart course through the listeners’ nervous system, performing sweet sneak attacks on the ears, both hummable and head-banging. Oh, and a little tripped out. Their sound is hard to express in description, with most critics forcing their readership to imagine the three-headed love child of a slew of other bands.
Having piqued interest internationally through dynamic and often improvisational live shows at festivals like Bonnaroo or warming the stage for Sonic Youth, the Pixies, Queens of the Stone Age, Les Claypool, My Morning Jacket and Moving Units, the quintet is releasing a new LP, Not Them, You, on September 13th, filled with the concentrated, psychedelic passion we expected would come riffing out the speakers from these experimental tune spinners. No band records like Lake Trout, named after a ‘hood dish in their native Baltimore that isn’t necessarily trout. The seven-year road veterans tape their live free-form “ambient shows,” culling the best parts to visit later in the studio, sometimes writing lyrics to accompany the tactile aural mosaics.
16 barbs of blissful melancholy and churning grooves play out over 50-plus minutes of complex songs filled with breakdowns, multiple bridges with vague beeps and electronic squiggles, and the inclusion of some strange instrumentation. A fuzzy bass line jumpstarts the opening track, “Shiny Wrapper,” over skittering drums that prop up a danceable backbeat. “I’ve got your answer/in this shiny wrapper/where’s all the laughter gone/is this our final chapter,” sung in a controlled fury, could be as much about apocalyptic current event fears as it could about a dying relationship.
Lake Trout’s guitars don’t lead so much as seep into the ether like the ever-subdued manifestations of an ambient Edge, swirling through solos as a journey through the void. The exception is “Riddle,” which showcases a mean riff halfway between rockabilly and the Batman theme song as played by Mogwai. A lot of comparisons are made to Radiohead, which doesn’t not make sense, though fortunately Lake Trout toe their more consumable spacey sides, rather than ripping the singable parts off entirely and ditching the maddening weirdness, a la Coldplay. They sound more like 60’s British trip-pop artists high on Barrett-era Floyd and Sgt. Pepper melodies with a touch of urban American grime rubbed in their palms to dirty it up just enough. The Raveonettes if they were obsessed with Roger Waters’ songbook more than Buddy Holly’s.
Not Them, You plays through a continual storyline balancing collapse and heartache as told through the eyes of someone suffering claustrophobic attacks from the outside world in the form of media, leaders and relationships that are full of broken promises. “Thank you for all the gifts you gave/ and then you took them away/so much time/running just one way/don’t look back/that’s no way to win they say,” rings in the haunting lines of the mournfully urgent King, while in the fearfully tight Have You Ever, Ranere questions, “Have you read the paper/where we all agree/heard the ones on high/singing we are free/ why do I feel something’s gone wrong/can’t think now/still looking for a job” reminds of the nightmarish passivity of the last four years. Lyrics like “Afraid of colors now/which is war/the captain’s gone crazy,” seem less ambiguously pointed towards the puppet masters of war.
The songs are spit-roasted by the ghostly orchestrations I and I, which sound like Slint as produced by Bjork and Augustus Pablo, respectively, as well as the desert-country slide guitar solo of Keep Your Eyes Shut that meanders us through the album’s end into a sonic ghost town sunset. With the notable exception of Janes Addiction’s version of Sympathy for the Devil (and a slightly less deserving but mentionable play on Wild Horses by The Sundays), it’s hard to add much to a Stones’ song that wasn’t already placed there by the Stones, and the earnest and apt inclusion of Street Fighting Man, which boasts sterling vocals and a mellow Jesus and Mary Chain psychedelic beach blanket vibe is a worthy try with more than a little catchiness, but ultimately lacks enough spark to celebrate re-releasing such a beloved rock jewel, despite kickass guitar work, awesomely off-kilter hand-claps and a mellow hypnotic groove.
Lake Trout bring us back to that brief but glorious period in the early ‘90’s, when catchy modern music was interesting and actually rocked, and when lead singers didn’t have to sound like your 13-year old little sister singing the contents of her diary. Their sound is clear but experimental without seeming convoluted, annoying or forced. If the same ears who brought Coldplay onto the Top Ten catch wind of Lake Trout, they are poised to reach the same majestic heights, having just as much talent for elegant songcraft, yet with more originality, adventurous musicality, experimental curiosity and just plain better lyrics.
Look for Lake Trout’s gigs throughout the U.S. in support of Not You, Them throughout the fall. When you tire of pleasuring yourself to Tila Tequila’s MySpace page, check out Lake Trout’s at myspace.com/laketrout, which the band uses as its message board while updating its website.