I realize this might have some calling for my head on a pike, but Radiohead’s Hail to the Thief left me feeling pretty cold. People who had downloaded the album months before its release swore on their firstborn children that it was the band’s best album to date, and while I took those statements with a pinch of salt, I did want to hope for the best.
I suppose Kid A was about as good as you could hope for as a followup to OK Computer, but what little I heard of Amnesiac did nothing for me either way. But to be quite frank, Hail to the Thief was a disappointment for me, with only a handful of songs containing anything resembling the sense of experimentation that many claimed to find in the album. Not surprisingly, I haven’t even missed the album since a friend borrowed it and never gave it back.
However, within minutes of listening to Lake Trout’s latest full-length, I began hearing everything I had hoped to hear on a new Radiohead album. There was a dramatic sense of discovery and reckless abandon that permeated the disc, lending to its songs both a confident swagger and a certain naïve beauty. There are parts of Another One Lost that sound like Lake Trout stepped into the studio with the express purpose of one-upping everything Thom Yorke et al. ever committed to tape. And at the same time, other parts are so inspired that they sound like they were truly recorded without any knowledge of Radiohead whatsoever… a remarkable feat given today’s saturated alternative/indie music culture.
Of course, this doesn’t mean that the entire album is successful. The most frustrating thing about Another One Lost is its inconsistency (a holdover, perhaps, from Lake Trout’s early days as a jam band). There are several parts of the album that don’t so much make me cringe as wonder if the band really thought out the implications of their musical decisions before they finalized the masters.
The opening track, “Stutter,” does just that for its entire length, somewhat crippling the initial listening experience. “Her” is the first of several instrumentals on the album, and stumbles over itself as echoing guitars and falsetto croons drift over a sputtering programmed beat (indeed, the drum programming throughout the album often seems a bit hit or miss), feeling a bit too much like a demo. And “Mine” finds vocalist/guitarist Woody Ranere chanting variations of “Just a little piece that’s mine” over a shifting soundscape. Compared to the other performances on the album, it feels a bit lazy, not to mention repetitive.
But for every one of the album’s flaws, it seems like there is at least one moment that impresses me with its breathless creativity and beauty. “Say Something” shifts gears several times, starting off with grunting bass notes, icy synth drizzles, chiming guitars, and the Blinker The Star-esque vocals of Ranere. As Ranere’s falsetto breaks into the stratosphere, the song enters into an OK Computer-style breakdown/build-up that culminates in a burst of chrome-like guitars, crashing drums, and synth klaxons.
“Holding” is perhaps my favorite track, opening with Ranere plaintively crooning “Run, run as fast as you can/So I can catch you again/I won’t remind you/So you can pretend/Someday I’ll live again” over a delicate duet of guitar and Rhodes piano before the song explodes. And the band creates the finest Radiohead moment since “OK Computer” on the song’s bridge, as the instruments fall away to reveal a shimmering Rhodes enveloping Ranere’s fluttering falsetto as he croons “We’re all afraid” in the best anxiety-ridden Thom Yorke tradition.
As mentioned before, several instrumental pieces float throughout the album, allowing the band to experiment and delves into more obtuse arrangements and structures without the limitation of vocals. Although “Still” bears some similarity to “Her,” with a wordless falsetto tuning in from some distant AM station amidst sparse guitars, it feels far more fleshed out, with a subtle bassline/Rhodes combo gracefully adding dimension as it winds its way through the song.
The album winds down with two of its finer instrumental moments. “Look Who It Is” is the album’s most alien and imposing stretch, with the groans of dying industrial complexes and vast windswept spaces slowly given shape and form by percussion and a series of hypnotic, ringing guitars. Occasionally, vocals make an appearance, but rather than lend some sort of emotional warmth to the piece, their digitized, abstract patterns serve only to make it stranger and more haunting. And album finally wraps up amidst the swirling, shimmery drones and gauzy textures of “Iris,” which pull back to reveal a delicate lattice of jewel-like guitar notes and exotic, flute-like sounds.
For all of its strong points, Another One Lost can sometimes be a frustrating album due to the diversity of styles and sounds the band employs. It seems like the band went in with a completely blank slate and just went for broke, trying anything and everything that came to mind whilst in the studio, practice space, or tour van. And frankly, not all of it works.
Some of the ideas tossed out don’t stick at all, or feel awkwardly executed and pulled off just by the skin of their teeth (i.e. the drum n’ bass/middle-eastern/angular post-rock track “Bliss”). But the sheer diversity of sounds employed on the album, combined with the array of styles that Lake Trout dives into with equal parts ambition and recklessness, ensures that plenty of Another One Lost does work — at least, enough to make it an album worth seeking out should you be in the market for some obtuse, conceptual art-rock.