Last week, Lord Huron’s third album, Vide Noir finally released after months of personal anticipation.
It’s one thing to patiently await a new album release for months at a time. However, if you’re a sadist like me, you accidentally find a sufficiently motivated friend going to a concert filled with songs you haven’t heard from an artist you love, and receiving a couple those tracks via garbage cell phone video.
And now that I’ve heard those tracks as they’re intended to be heard, boy, I gotta say. I was a smidge over-invested. More on that later.
When encountering Lord Huron’s work one should be prepared to embark upon an auditory hallucination shimmering at a crossroads of a failing, flickering cultural memory. Motifs, ideas, left long abandoned are reinvigorated and restored, producing albums resembling works of pulp fiction. Huron’s freshman and sophomore offerings, Lonesome Dreams and Strange Trails peaked into arenas of westerns and 1960’s surfer rock, respectively.
At the heart of both is love. Love Unrequited. And ultimately, the quest for its satisfaction.
Vide Noir bridges these motifs and resolves one of the central stories in Strange Trails. Two new musical themes are added to Schneider’s portfolio, encapsulating his take on punk (Never Ever) and something that would have played well in the background of the Under the Sea dance in back to the future (I Will Wait by the River / When the Night is Over).
To appreciate Vide Noir one must contextualize it within Lord Huron’s other works.
In Strange Trails, a cast of characters unfolded. Some of them inferential, while a few were explicit. The central focus of that album is a young man named Johnnie (Hurricane) who dies violently at the hand of his lover’s side piece, ‘Big Jim’. Within that album’s mythos, the death of Johnnie is merely the point of inflection, his resurrection driving the second half of the album after he’s forced by supernatural means to return to the living world in his revenge-driven persona, the World Ender.
Huron paints the worlds of Strange Trails with the trembling; vinegary guitar-rift-brush-strokes that breathed optimism into California dreaming genre, yet Schneider twists them into their contrarian forms. Where we would have found Annette Funicello sunning herself on a beach blanket now stands a shadowy expression the teenage/young adult psyche and the recognition of its capacity for obsession, infatuation, murder, and the occult.
Vide Noir serves to continue the theme, except the certainty of the previous album’s damned, becomes introspection and doubt. “Is this all in my head, is this all in my head?” Is asked repeatedly as the cursed contend with their fate. The album opens with Lost in Time and Space. Wherein the musical leitmotifs of the prior two albums swim in a dreamy and murky sea where they converge upon Johnnie, still searching for his love. Seeming to have chased her from somewhere else, somewhere beyond the present. A loitering string of quarter notes twanging from an acoustic guitar paired with the tinny sound of an underloved saloon piano play as a knowing wink to the listener that Lonesome Dreams is also in some way tied to Vide Noir. We’ve been here twice before. And never-ever has there been a love this fierce.
And it is fierce. Unrelenting. Blistering. Swinging wildly from the spur jingling, saddle oil infused song Time and Space, Schneider’s second track dives into Never Ever, a reconstruction of the bass and rhythm guitars distinctive of late 70’s, early 80’s punk but tinged with soprano guitar melodies, pulling the song’s cultural loci way the hell out of focus. Johnnie might not know where he is, but he knows why he is. Never Ever is forceful, it rarely takes breaks and while some of the most poetic lyrics find their home in this track:
She was gone without a warning
Long before the sunrise
I will paint the perfect face
I will draw her eyes with the pigment of my mind
I will trace her lines
‘Cause I have traced them thousands of times
All my days are filled with mourning
All my nights are empty
I just stare out into space
Searching for her eyes in a never-ending sky
Leave me where I lie
I don’t care if I live or die
This is madness. The song hints at reincarnation, at illusion, at rose colored glasses that have tilted Johnnie’s mind, and he knows it. As if to underscore the point Schneider refuses to come up for air during the chorus singing in one unbroken line at double the rhythm of the rest of the song:
I will never ever love another the way I loved her
Vide Noir’s construction greatly depends upon the twinning of certain tracks. It seems that Johnnie has finally found his love in the crooning pomade drenched tracks I will wait by the River and When the Night is Over. Strung throughout most of the album is the Emerald Star, a mythical and emblematic entity that seems to signify the misconception Johnnie has carried with him through what might be lifetimes. It is only through his experiences here, in whatever form he’s taken to transit this album that they are finally resolved.
What was my issue with this album? Probably it’s production value. Lord Huron’s albums have consistently had some of the most extravagant and detail-oriented post-production efforts for any indie artist. That noticeably falls apart in places in Vide Noir, where at times you’ll notice stock snaps or claps inserted alongside what might be a recorded drummer, or could easily be a software-driven drumkit, I found myself suspicious once I noticed some of the scratches to the album’s glossy finish. Modulation of sound produces tracks that are somehow wall shaped when they probably shouldn’t be. This is the ‘blistering’ in Never Ever I was referring too. It might feel like the wrong word once you’ve heard that track, but it’s nearly homogonous tempo and monotone volume is quite a contextual departure for Huron. One might think it’s an artistic impulse, but the small little hiccups of quality in other tracks make me think, no… that wasn’t what they were going for.
Despite its flaws, it still exists within Schneider’s mythological realm. A realm that carries a warning: follow the Emerald Star if you wish, eventually, you’ll realize that no star in the sky has ever burned green.