Somewhere between Fleet Foxes and The Black Keys lies a bourbon-soaked niche occupied by Lord Huron. This LA four-piece deals in worn, sepia-tinged folk-rock marked more by its earnestness than anything else – the kind of music that lends itself well to television soundtracks – and indeed it’s here that the band have had their most notable moment on the world stage. Last year, their sweeping 2015 song ‘The Night We Met’ formed a crucial part of the soundtrack to the controversial Netflix drama 13 Reasons Why, and thanks to that spotlight, the song was certified Platinum in January.
In the wake of that unexpected mainstream success, the band have stepped up a level for their third album ‘Vide Noir’, signing to a major label (Universal’s Republic Records) and working with big names such as Dave Fridmann (Tame Impala, MGMT) and Sonny DiPerri (Warpaint, Animal Collective). The concept is bigger, too. The album title is French for ‘black void’ and its contents find Schneider’s narrator working his way through a trippy and inextricable mix of heartbreak and depression; the ambitious story of the album involves a runaway lover, a narrator questioning reality and an ominous emerald star that promises epiphany. Spoiler: it doesn’t end well.
Beginning like Royksopp’s blissed-out ‘Dead To The World’, opener ‘Lost In Time and Space’ has Schneider immediately cutting to the broken heart of things: “If I don’t find her, gonna tie that noose.” Lyrically, the album doesn’t change much from here on in: ‘Wait by the River’, for instance, runs “If we can’t be together, what’s the point of life?” and ‘Secret of Life’ is much the same: “The life I’ve lived is only dust / The darkness comes for all of us.” Almost every song hinges on heartbreak, death and the infinite abyss. It’s all rather defeating.
The album’s most lucid moment comes in its title track – “Where can you go when it’s all in your head?”, wonders Schneider, showcasing a shrewdness that’s missing elsewhere – but the comparatively featureless pessimism on the rest of the album makes for an oppressive and often dull listen.
It’s a shame, because underneath it all, Lord Huron are making lusher and more varied sounds than ever. ‘Lost In Time And Space’ is a transcendent cosmic pastoral; ‘Wait By The River’ an intoxicating waltz dripping with Timber Timbre atmospherics; ‘Moonbeam’ a strange synth wriggler. They even go garage-rock for ‘Never Ever’ and ‘Ancient Names (part II)’, which have them crashing along the same turbo-Americana lines as Delta Spirit and The Killers. Everything on ‘Vide Noir’ seems to hint that the band’s best is yet to come.