Release Date: 21 February 2020
It’s strange – not to mention fundamentally disconcerting – to live through turbulent times. Yet as many feel like the world is slipping out of control, artists are enlivened as they seek to make sense of the shifting sands. Hazel Wilde of Lanterns on the Lake is now a songwriter necessarily emboldened. On Spook the Herd, the band’s fourth record, her voice and preoccupations rise to the fore like never before. In tandem, the band break new ground on a set of songs that are direct and crucial.
Wilde does nothing less than dive headlong into the existential crises of our times. Beginning with the record’s title – a pointed comment at the dangerously manipulative tactics of ideologues – its nine songs turn the microscope to issues including our hopelessly polarized politics, social media, addiction, grief and the climate crisis.
The world is brought into focus, but Wilde’s style is not declarative. She also proves herself a songwriter possessed of a rare talent for finding the personal contours to contemporary issues, fully inhabiting them to make them real. Recorded as live where possible, the band’s natural touchstones of gauzy dream-pop and monumental post rock still float in the air, but listening to Lanterns on the Lake now feels like actually sitting in the corner of the room as they play. As guitarist and producer Paul Gregory says of approaching their fourth album, “There was a sense of release in terms of what kind of music we felt we could make. The idea of what kind of band you’re supposed to be really disappeared. It was great; you felt you could do whatever you like.”
Musically, this is a leaner Lanterns on the Lake – at times unusually stark. Their sound has been beautifully winnowed into something more pared back, urgent and direct – in keeping with Wilde’s messages – on an album loaded with songs marked by an arresting intimacy. “Swimming Lessons”, first teased as an in-progress idea on Instagram, is writhing and supple as Gregory’s arpeggiated guitar dovetails with Ol Ketteringham’s pulsating drumming and Wilde’s keening vocal. “Every Atom” rides on insistent beats which lay a bed for a warped and playfully robotic guitar line, while “Secrets and Medicine” weaves and lopes achingly, weaving its atmosphere from Spartan means: piano, celestial guitars and diminished brass.
Yet Wilde’s romantic streak is still the record’s beating heart. It can be a characteristically dark one, as in the obsessed narrator of “When it All Comes True”, or its counterpoint in the last-night-on-earth abandon of “Before They Excavate”. Mining emotion in our fractured times unearths an inescapable truth: despite our seemingly myriad differences, all we have is each other. It’s a hopeful beam of light shone into the darkness, and balances the cynicism and dread elsewhere. As stately drums thud and guitar feedback wails and roils and rises around her on closing track “A Fitting End”, Wilde sings – almost presciently – “What a die-for moment this turned out to be.” Spook the Herd contains many such moments to discover and savour.