Artist: Lost Lander

Album: DRRT

“Alternative orchestral synth rock Portland”, announces Lost Lander‘s Bandcamp tags: a fair place to start. Their songs – calm, pretty, elegant, and fond of long, glistening notes – remind me of “laptop-pop” bands like Postal Service and Owl City. But the ways the comparison fails are important too. Matt Sheehy’s voice is deeper and more strained, and Lost Lander are an actual band. Patrick Hughes’s drums thump and pitter-pat and crash and echo; Sheehy’s guitar is often acoustic or seems so, resonating with the hollow space in the wood; Sarah Fennell plays more piano than synthesizer. Unless the string sections that sometimes appear mid-song are synthesized; if so, they’re seriously well-arranged imitations.

DRRT‘s great strength, for me, is each song’s steady progression of arrangement ideas. Songs start with single textures, and pick up new layers one by one, discarding older textures before they get over-crowded. Two minutes into a song you might be listening to four different instrument lines, none of which were there at the beginning, yet there’s never a feeling of disorientation, of “what the heck?”. The main melodies – which to me suggest ones Radiohead’s Thom Yorke might use as he ages and loses his high notes – carry steadily through the switches. The album is always revealing something new, but patiently.

DRRT‘s weakness, for me — other than the vague lyrics (Through Your Bones does have some storytelling resonance) — is that, unfairly, I want it to be a different record. Hughes is a strong and propulsive drummer who keeps his feel and his patterns varied. I don’t want all those nice dynamic transitions when he breaks into a drum-free song, then departs; I want him to take some songs over. Wonderful World has a melody line that doesn’t fill out two long bars, so I want it to tighten up and barge ahead in 7/4 time (remembering that barges are not fast-moving boats). Lost Lander just fill the eighth beat with echoey guitar.

I enjoy how Your Name is a Fire starts with synth bass, clattering kettle drums, and urgent vocals trying out three ever-so-slightly conflicting ideas about where the beat is (which I’m certain is on purpose, but then they straighten things out). I enjoy how the cymbals and piano on Belly of the Beast/Valentina edge near chaos as the song falls apart (I’d enjoy it even more if the chaos was blended into the song). Pretty much I want Lost Lander to record the sequel to World Leader Pretend‘s final album Punches. But theirs is a calmer, more deliberative form of pop-rock; and sometimes, late at night, I decide that calm is a thing I’ve underrated.

– Brian Block

To see the rest of our favorites, visit our Favorite Albums of 2012 page!