The words “nice” and “rock” just don’t mix. When bands started to experiment into “post-rock”, or at least the modern interpretation of it with bands like Sigur Ros and Explosions in the Sky, “nice” and “rock” started to creep closer together. Now indie bands that are being influenced by those sounds are creating new ones that are strengthening the magnetic attraction of “nice” and “rock”. No modern band wants to be filed under “easy listening”, but there are more and more out there that you could argue fit better beside Barry Manilow than Manic Street Preachers. Lanterns on the Lake are a band that are releasing their second album Until the Colours Run, and at first listen it does sound very “nice”, but there’s more than meets the ear when it comes to this Newcastle five-piece. Behind the nice veneer of their sound there resides a grittiness, but since it’s not apparent, it may go completely unnoticed.
The album actually starts off at its loudest with “Elodie”, combining screeching guitars and rolling drums which strip down into Hazel Wilde’s soft vocal stanzas which she accompanies with her piano. It’s a sweet track that works well because of the large swells that are rooted in post-rockness. “The Buffalo Days” is an orchestral rock track that tries to achieve movie moment status with its epicness, Wilde starts off by singing “When this started, I was living like an animal, and I didn’t have a hope in hell.” Not really lyrics you’d associate with “nice”, but you get a sense with this track the balance of tone the album battles with. “The Ghost that Sleeps in Me” keeps things simple with Wilde’s piano and vocals accompanying the orchestration to start, and even if it does sound “nice”, sometimes “nice” is what we need even if it’s not what we want. By keeping the sound centered around Wilde’s vocals and piano, the “niceness” of the sound works. The title track “Until the Colours Run” seems like an uplifting anthem to an inspirational video, which would probably really work there, but here on the album it gets lost in its own shine. “Green and Gold” starts to bring in some sadness and longing to the mix because it’s just her vocals and piano, “love is not a fleeting thing” is what we learn from Wilde here, and “when he first stood up to me” was her “favourite scene”.
It’s this type of heart confusion that seems to symbolize the album as well. “You Soon Learn” brings a Band of Horses type guitar-riff back to the fold, it’s a welcome addition, but it’s not taking us back to any of the desperation we heard earlier, the orchestration of the song is keeping it “nice” and it doesn’t work well. “Picture Show” goes back again to the piano-centric track, and even though it’s a light warm sound, when she sings “oh my friends I’m heading for the rocks” there’s a dramatic framework, if you buy into it. “Another Tale From Another English Town” finally takes a more contemplative approach, and sounds more like the band I want to hear. It’s nice sounding, but it’s also biting in its criticism of dispassionate country life in “We don’t want to fight, we want the quiet life, wish our lives away.” It seems a bit heavy handed, but accompanied with the floating sound it works. “Our Cool Decay” hits the right notes, probably because the guitars and drums let the sound float instead of relying too heavily on the piano.
There’s no doubt that Lanterns on the Lake will find its audience, they’ve released an album that can find them among the Explosions in the Sky faithful (label and touring mates) but also in the Arcade Fire epic-indie-crowd that will be accustomed to this sound. Lanterns are still a rather young band, and Hazel Wilde definitely demonstrates her songwriting talents here, but the sound is still too “nice” to be taken really seriously. The darkness which rock music thrives on to give it life, is too hidden on Until the Colours Run, a few of the songs do have the right mix, and packaged on their own in the right context it would be really work, but together on an album it feels like a Sunday stroll that’s gone on too long.
– Michael Unger