Mercury Prize-nominated band Lanterns on the Lake dive into their soul-stirring fifth album ‘Versions of Us,’ an emotionally charged indie rock fever dream and a spellbinding soundtrack to life’s innermost reckonings, which they recorded with Radiohead’s Philip Selway.
Stream: “String. Theory” – Lanterns on the Lake
In all of those infinite versions of us, there will be one the fates didn’t touch…
There’s a profound weight to Lanterns on the Lake’s fifth album: An intensity borne out of spilling one’s soul out on the page, as well as in song.
“Lately, I’ve been on the cusp of it, seeing signs in the intricate,” singer and songwriter Hazel Wilde sings at the start, her voice a beacon of raw passion and unfiltered feeling. “And all those cynics and nihilists couldn’t stop me from feeling this… I’ve said it before, but I mean it this time. Am I a wreck? You bet, but I learned from the best.” Around her, the world fills with sonic color and churn, rich harmony and tender warmth.
It’s a powerful entrance, and one that sets the tone for the following forty-minute journey: Intimate and epic, Lanterns on the Lake’s Versions of Us is an emotionally charged fever dream dwelling in visceral human depths. Deep in the throes of fate and agency, fragility and fracture, inner strength and our own raw potential, the English indie rock band craft a spellbinding soundtrack to life’s innermost reckonings: A record we can turn to for inspiration and comfort, healing, and hope.
As Wilde sings in the last line that very first song: “I won’t let this spark die in me.”
In all of those infinite versions of us
There will be one the fates didn’t touch
And now I will carry the thought of them round
Until they lower me into the ground
Vibrating on their own frequency
There’s another you with another me
And I’ll carry the thought of them round
I will carry the thought of them round
I will carry the thought of them round
Until they lower me into the ground
– “String Theory,” Lanterns on the Lake
Released June 2, 2023 via Bella Union, Versions of Us is a phenomenal eruption of sweltering, soaring sound and stunning lyricism. Lanterns on the Lake’s fifth studio album arrives nearly three and a half years after the release of 2020’s Mercury Prize-nominated fourth LP Spook the Herd.
For the band – comprised of Hazel Wilde, Paul Gregory, Bob Allan, and Angela Chan – those years have been a time of tremendous self-reflection, personal growth, and change. For starters, their longtime drummer and pianist Oliver Ketteringham announced his departure in 2022, leaving the group he helped found fifteen years earlier. Radiohead’s Philip Selway ended up replacing him on drums and percussion, which is a whole story in its own right.
Hazel Wilde also became a mother during this time, a life change she says has fundamentally shifted her perspective and without a doubt impacted the album’s lyrical content.
“Writing songs requires a certain level of self-indulgence, and songwriters can be prone to dwelling on themselves,” she explains. “Motherhood made me aware of having a different stake in the world. I’ve got to believe that there’s a better way and an alternative future to the one we’ve been hurtling towards. I’ve also got to believe that I could be better as a person, too.”
To be able to properly share the story of this album, we need to talk about what preceded it first.
“We actually recorded a whole first version of this album prior to the ‘proper’ version,” Hazel Wilde tells Atwood Magazine. “We reached a point where the album was in its final stages of recording, we’d put a huge amount of work into it, but we knew it wasn’t right. I think somewhere along the way we’d overthought things and got sucked into this negative wormhole – the passion wasn’t there, the heart and soul was missing from the performances, and with money being tight and the deadline approaching, there was building pressure.”
“It’s hard to explain fully what went on there. There were points where some of us considered whether we could and should continue at all with making the record and pursuing a life in music. We made this huge decision to scrap the whole thing and start again. We’d already blown our small budget and the deadline to submit the album was just a couple of months away.”
“To add to this, we knew that Ol, our drummer and best mate, was not going to be continuing with us. So much took place within the space of just a couple of weeks as we put plans into place to start again and it was an emotional and stressful time to be honest. There were some other things going on for me personally, too, which added to that emotion and stress.”
“But things took a dramatic turn and there was a huge shift in our mindset and approach to the whole thing once Philip joined to play drums on the album. We were able to approach the songs with a fresh perspective. We recorded the album again within the space of just a few weeks. It was a case of, ‘Ok, we’ve nothing left to lose now, this is it.’ To me, it almost felt like this could be our final mark to make on the world. Things were recorded in a few takes, and we would move on. The music and the performances have a charged energy to them that we wouldn’t otherwise have had because of that.”
While one can draw sonic through-lines between Spook the Herd, late 2020’s The Realist EP, and Versions of Us, Lanterns on the Lake’s new album feels in many ways like a rebirth for the band: A self-contained collection of songs that fit together like a jigsaw puzzle, full of both light and darkness, color and candor. For Wilde and her band mates, it was all a matter of bringing these songs to life the best they could.
Put another way, you don’t scrap an entire budget’s worth of recorded material and start over unless you really believe in your material’s potential. To Lanterns on the Lake’s credit, the version they’ve release into the world is phenomenal, intricate, and utterly immersive.
“The vision whenever we’ve approached making an album has always been to make our best work yet,” Wilde says. “As with the previous album Spook The Herd, the priority was to serve the songs. That vision didn’t change fundamentally, but it certainly got out-of-focus at times during the first attempt. When we started again, we began with me demoing the songs on just a guitar or piano and my voice, just as they’d been written in the first place, and we re-approached everything from there. Starting again like that allowed us to bring that priority back into focus.”
The name of the album is taken from a line in the song “String Theory,” where Wilde sings about multiverses:
“In all of those infinite versions of us, there will be one that the fates didn’t touch.”
“Coming up with album titles is bloody hard,” she says. “You’re trying to find something that captures all these ideas and stories within the album in a succinct snappy title. It’s always the very last thing we decide upon. So one of the themes running through the album is this idea of imagining other possibilities – other ways of being, of a different life. Within the more personal stories is the idea that what is going on, on personal level, is mirrored in society and in the world on a larger scale.”
“I was thinking a lot about what the future of society and the planet could look like at the time – if we stay on the path that we’re on or if we drastically change course and I was thinking about the final outcome and destination of either routes. For a while I liked the idea of calling the album ‘Utopia or Oblivion’ after a Buckminster-Fuller book but decided that would be a really naff album title and I’m glad we didn’t go for that. Anyway, this is all to say that the title was suggesting that there are other possibilities out there for who we can be and how we can live.”
Once we were an empire, you and I
But where love once reigned it’s all locust skies
And the army has headed home
It’s 4:00, I’m awake in the dark
Watch your chest rise and fall like the cities of old
In this kingdom we would once die for
If you look you can still see the marks
Where we danced right through our vaulted parts
Before this whole thing caved in
Parades would pass through our touch
But now those gates have rusted shut
Our anthem was ‘All Is Full Of Love’
Now look at us, we’re in ruins
– “Locust,” Lanterns on the Lake
As for the songs themselves, Versions of Us is one massive highlight reel. From the aforementioned album opener “The Likes of Us” and the spirited anthem “Real Life” to the smoldering groove “Vatican,” the enchanting, thought-provoking “String Theory,” and the invigorating, irresistible “Rich Girls,” Versions of Us is as catchy as it is cathartic: A cinematic roller-coaster ride for the ears, mind, and soul alike.
Didn’t it pour the night we cut your hair
Said “can I be honest? I want to be honest here”
I’m willing to change the way you say I should
I wish I could help it, and
if I could help it, god knows I would
I’m feeling too much
And I swear that I’m cursed
Writing these songs is just making it worse
Starting to sink
I don’t know about you
But I wish I could fake it like those rich girls do
– “Rich Girls,” Lanterns on the Lake
Picking your own favorites is like picking children – often an impossible task – but Wilde offers up two personal standouts.
“I remember feeling a huge emotional release when recording ‘String Theory,’” she recalls. “There is something about everyone’s performance on that one that I just love. ‘Thumb Of War’ is also a highlight – recording that one, especially towards the end of the song was another huge release for me.”
She describes “Thumb of War,” the record’s rousing, riff-heavy fifth track, as the album’s thematic centerpiece. “This song looks at the idea that everyone is living in their own version of reality – what is a conspiracy theory to one person is reality to another. In a way, we’re all existing alongside one another in our own relative multiverses depending on how you see the world. It’s about looking at the unsettling and confused state of things – climate change and culture wars – and still seeing the profound beauty in our very existence.
“There’s also some irony in that in itself though – the idea that we are on a rock spinning through space is a conspiracy theory to some people.”
See you scrolling through the century
Banging on about some warning
And they were dining on conspiracies
But I was in the belly of a different beast
Oh I was in the belly of a different beast
Here we go
Oh what a thing to think
Now come along
What a wild place this is
Sure is pretty though
Are we alone up on this rock called home
Just spinning on and on?
That’s when you turn to me
And say “I declare a thumb of war”
The album concludes in “Last Transmission,” a beautiful, filmic finale that takes a step back to observe this wild, weary world we’re living in both up-close and at a distance. Lanterns on the Lake deliver an aching summation of life in the 2020s: One that all but requires each and every one of us to have our own life raft, lest we sink from the sheer weight of all the noise, the turmoil and sheer friction.
“I wanted the lyrics to feel as though you were listening in on a transmission from Earth that has been sent out into space, giving a glimpse of this strange civilization that we’re all used to,” Wilde smiles. “It’s saying, ‘Things are feeling pretty bleak and strange right now; we celebrate and glorify all the wrong things and miss the point about a lot of it. There’s so much that’s wrong with how we’re doing this but I think there’s still beauty and good to be found here.’”
Even in the Great North Museum here
They’ve got your hologram
And Psalm 41 on a loop
And in the last gasp of this old world
You know I think I found the beauty and the good
Oh honey we’re trying down here on Earth
Go on, give us something
To be going on with
Go on give us something
We can work with
I’m sure there was one last thing
I’m sure there was one last thing to say
Before this signal fails
Lanterns on the Lake leave us in a moment of quiet, intimate reflection to ponder the truth of our reality.
Who are we, and what is our potential? Are we living up to the best possible version of ourselves, and are we making the right moves in this “game called” life? Breathtakingly beautiful, unapologetic, and uncompromising, Versions of Us inspires and confronts, enchants and demands.
It’s a masterful work of art, and a resounding reminder that our humanity may be one of our biggest flaws, but it’s also our greatest strength.
“I hope listeners connect to the record and feel something that five humans made, that is coming from a very real place,” Hazel Wilde shares. “I’d like to think folks can find a sense of hope in there too. The biggest takeaway for me is ironic because it links to one of the thematic threads in the album – that we can change our destiny by making that decision to change the path that we’re on. In a way we ended up in the multiverse with a different album and one which is far removed from that original version.”
Experience the full record via our below stream, and peek inside Lanterns on the Lake’s Versions of Us with Atwood Magazine as Wilde and co. take us track-by-track through the music and lyrics of their stunning fifth studio album!
‘Versions of Us’ – Lanterns on the Lake
:: Inside Versions of Us ::
The Likes Of Us
In a time where the future can feel uncertain and there’s a lot of negativity and chaos, this song is about believing in other possibilities and it’s about not letting other people steal that sense of hope from you.
This song is about living your imaginary fully-realised life. It’s about the promise you make to yourself and others of something better rather than living in the moment and accepting who and where you are. It’s essentially one for the daydreamers.
This is about someone always being there for me, even at my most unlovable.
This is a song about reflecting on what might have been and might, in some way, still be. It finds beauty and solace in the multiverse theory and the idea that out there somewhere, vibrating on their own frequency, exists another fully realised version of yourself where your story turned out differently.
Thumb Of War
This is the centerpiece of the album for us. This song looks at the idea that everyone is living in their own version of reality – what is a conspiracy theory to one person is reality to another. In a way, we’re all existing alongside one another in our own relative multiverses depending on how you see the world. It’s about looking at the unsettling and confused state of things – climate change and culture wars – and still seeing the profound beauty in our very existence. There’s also some irony in that in itself though – the idea that we are on a rock spinning through space is a conspiracy theory to some people.
This song is about toxic nostalgia, reluctance to change and self-sabotage. It looks at that internal battle to want to do and be better but getting in your own way. Our school motto was ‘carpe diem’ or ‘seize the day’ and so I added that line “I think I’ll seize another day” as a wry link to me and my own past. Throughout the record there’s the idea that what takes place internally and on a personal scale is mirrored in society and the world on a grander scale. I wanted to hint at that in this song too. Where society clings to an imagined past we can’t move forward.
There’s the idea threaded throughout the album of how the personal and the universal mirror each other. The same patterns and lessons repeat throughout time – some on the small, personal scale and some on a much larger scale. This song uses the idea of an imaginary empire now lying in a state of ruin as a metaphor for a relationship that has collapsed. This song began to take on a whole new meaning as we were recording it. Our drummer and best friend had left the band and that in itself felt like a very painful end to something that had at one time felt untouchable.
Making songs for us has always been about feeling something real, honest and true. But of course you can feel up against it in a time where the fake and vacuous are celebrated. The words for this came immediately as I was coming up with the chord progression, I wanted to be as honest and raw as I could and not filter anything out. The music went on quite a journey with this one and we had multiple versions of it. We were never really satisfied with how we were executing this song until Philip came up with that drum beat. That unlocked the song for us.
This song is about the absurdity of the world as it is and how we’re living. It’s also about the good that can be found in amongst all of that. I wanted the lyrics to feel as though you were listening in on a transmission from Earth that has been sent out into space, giving a glimpse of this strange civilisation that we’re all used to. It’s saying: ‘things are feeling pretty bleak and strange right now; we celebrate and glorify all the wrong things and miss the point about a lot of it. There’s so much that’s wrong with how we’re doing this but I think there’s still beauty and good to be found here’. The very end of this reprises the melodies and then guitar noise of the very beginning of the album. We wanted people to be able to loop the album or at least remind them of where they stepped in.
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© Rob Irish
:: Stream Lanterns on the Lake ::