Lord Huron’s mystic third album Vide Noir dwells in a cosmic dichotomy of dread and dreams, combining heartache and wanderlust in a blanket of surreal folk rock warmth.
Gazing out into the cosmos can be as dreadful as it can be rewarding: There’s nothing like a dark, clear night sky dotted with luminescent twinkles from billions of stars burning light years away from Earth, to make one feel so infinitesimal and meaningless. Yet that exact same landscape can be the source of hope and wonder; it is a constant reminder that there is more to life – an unlimited wealth of unknowns to learn, things to explore, and possibilities to realize. Space, in its horror and beauty, is truly the ultimate frontier.
It is within this cosmic dichotomy of dread and dreams that Lord Huron constructed their mystic third album, Vide Noir (released today, 4/20/2018 via Whispering Pines / Republic Records). The product of restlessness and wanderlust, heartache and imagination, Vide Noir envelops Lord Huron’s signature folk rock warmth in a blanket of surreality that shoots for the moon, and gets lost somewhere in orbit.
Nothing’s waiting for us in the great sky
Life is equal to dust in the balancer’s eye
Now I know that I can’t lift an old curse
Tell me, how does a man change the universe?
Will I ever be forgiven for the crime of my life?
Will it haunt me ’til I die?
To the end of time
– “The Balancer’s Eye,” Lord Huron
Listen: ‘Vide Noir’ – Lord Huron
A conceptual voyage through outer space and inner fantasy, Vide Noir is intentionally otherworldly: Its psychedelic visuals, drawn out musical jams, and metaphor-laced lyrics all feel like attempts to draw attention away from our own bodies. In doing so, a listener’s natural inclination may be to rise up toward the celestial skies overhead, but the beauty of Vide Noir is that it takes supernatural beauty, and brings it back down to earth. For all its ethereal sonic circuitry, Vide Noir finds Lord Huron delivering some of their most vulnerable, intimate, and meaningful poetry to date.
Plenty has been, and will continue to be written about the fantastical storyline seemingly running throughout Vide Noir; it’s the familiar tale of a lover in distress, and a narrator setting off on an ill-fated quest to bring that loved one back home, fighting time and confronting questions of existence and reality along the way. As compelling a narrative as this seems, Vide Noir is, if anything, an unintentional concept album whose vivid themes are so intricately stitched into its fabric, that a loosely-defined story has stretched into place. While a fun way to understand this record, it also feels like a cop-out, taking the easy route when there’s a litany of layered messages, meanings and questions thriving underneath Vide Noir‘s surface.
Lost in time and space
Aimless drifting into a far off place
Hurtling through the vast unknown
Staring straight into the pure, black void
Drowning in the sea of stars
Lost in a galaxy of cocktail bars
Blinded by the neon lights
I lie awake and say your name into the night
I guess she’s gone for good
She don’t call me like I thought she would
She went west to chase her dreams
She took my money, but she didn’t take me
Why go wander unknown worlds?
Stay right here and let the cosmos twirl
Blind without her source of light
I light a flame and say her name into the night
– “Lost in Time & Space,” Lord Huron
Album opener “Lost in Time & Space” invites us into Lord Huron’s new world with breathtaking immediacy, blending a lilting harp and sweet vocal harmonies with the band’s recognizable folk rock guitar. “Drowning in the sea of stars, lost in a galaxy of cocktail bars,” sings founding member and frontman Ben Schneider. From the very beginning, the band hints at the delusion of being up, up, and away, when you’re really right here, squarely on the ground.
Still, it’s fun to indulge in Lord Huron’s fantasia. The band weave majestic soundscapes with timbres and textures not present in their previous work: From the harps in “Lost in Time & Space,” to the sci-fi pads in “Ancient Names (Part I),” the lush organs in “Back from the Edge” and the cinematic array of instrumentation concluding “Emerald Star,” Vide Noir encourages us to bask in illusions and embrace imagination – just as Lord Huron did to create this record in the first place.
“Never Ever” is at its stripped core, a crunchy garage rocker about fleeting connections, but a barrage of whirly sounds reminiscent of Dr. Who give it euphoric elevation. The psychedelic two-part “Ancient Names” saga drives deeper into that garage-y chaos as Schneider sings of life and death, and how existence can or cannot be justified if the end is all the same. In “Ancient Names (Part I)” he sings:
What the fortune teller said is
I’m alive for now but good as dead
She claims she’d seen it all
While she was gazing in her crystal ball
Meanwhile, the anxious and heavier “Ancient Names (Part II)” seems to find him running away from these thoughts, whilst running toward them all at the same time:
Gone are the days of laughter and love
Gone, baby, gone, we’ve all had enough
Carry on and spend all your dough
Take it down to the ground and sink me below
I scream and shout like this
Just to prove to the world that I still exist
I don’t believe in life
And I won’t believe in death ’til I die
Manic and oppressive, “Part II” feels like the musical manifestation of the panic attacks I get when I think about my own death for too long. Some concepts are better handled in smaller doses, no matter how looming and everpresent they may be.
The skies may feel unceasingly dark and foreboding for Lord Huron, but Vide Noir has plenty of moments of sheer beauty as well. “Wait by the River” is a rich, poignant love song – a declaration of unending devotion. “If I can’t touch your body, can I touch the sky?” the band laments against a glistening backdrop of bittersweet melody. “Moonbeam” offers a brighter respite, its hushed tones making for a dazed lullabye. “I had a dream that you came to me shining down through the clouds like a moonbeam,” Schneider poetically sings in the verse, going on to fully engulf us in his vision:
When you saved me from a bad dream
I was drifting through time and space
But I landed on a moonbeam
Take me out of this place
The world is dark the night is long
I could use a few laughs and a couple of songs
The sun will rise above the hills
You’ll be leaving me soon, like hell you will
The owl gazing at the moon
Is the feeling that I get when I’m lookin’ at you
The sun will rise and fade the stars
And you’re leaving me soon, like hell you are
Yet even in its most innocent songs, Vide Noir cannot help but be aware of a storm lingering in the distance. “Where can you go when it’s all in your head?” inquires the album’s title track “Vide Noir” in an unusual moment of pure, lucid clarity – confirming that this hasn’t been a trip through outer space, but rather a nightmarish daydream taking place here on Earth. Vide Noir is rife with the sense of impending doom as Lord Huron allow themselves to be consumed in the harshest of life’s bitter realities, for which there is no single answer – just a bunch of stipulations and rhetorical questions. Thus, when “Emerald Star” brings about Vide Noir‘s distraught conclusion, we are left unsettled, languishing in heartache – the farthest thing from a happy ending.
With the benefit of hindsight, one could plausibly argue that Vide Noir is a natural progression for Lord Huron: Their first two albums, while deeply connected and in touch with reality, have always had a certain spaciness about them – not to mention a subtle sadness. Still, there’s no mistaking that Vide Noir comes out of left field. It’s a big shift for the Los Angeles band, whose former “indie/folk rock” designation no longer fits with their bold new direction.
Lord Huron are consciously evolving their sound, expanding through experimentation and embracing the new and weird – that cosmic dichotomy of dread and dreams. The result is their most ambitious album to date, a provocative and luxuriant soundtrack to late-night existential reflections. Vide Noir may itself not be a “Black Void,” but it certainly wants to dwell in one; we can only wonder what Lord Huron might make next, after their inner torment subsides.
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📸 © Pamela Littky