When Lost In The Trees set out to record Past Life, their third album for ANTI-, they knew they needed a break with the past. Frontman Ari Picker looked to move beyond the themes of loss that fueled their previous two albums. “I wanted to reach out and grab the music rather than have it come from some internal place.” On past releases Picker had used an expanded six-member band to render his carefully composed, classical-inflected songs, bringing them fully arranged to the studio for the band to perform. For the new album, the band was pared to a lean electronic-rock four-piece, and in this new configuration Lost In the Trees took to the road to workshop the songs that would become Past Life. Immediately, the new tracks evidence more than a band pared down; the arrangements are modern, spare, minimal, emphasizing groove and rhythm.
The band has also elected to work with an outside producer for the first time. Nicolas Vernhes (Deerhunter, Dirty Projectors, Atlas Sound) endorsed and refined the band’s new minimal aesthetic. The question in the studio became, “How much can we strip away?” With an approach that forefronts beats and bass-lines, Vernhes and the band lifted away the orchestral density of previous albums – leaving a more direct framework of soul-inflected guitar lines, throbbing groove, and Picker’s soaring vocal hooks.
Fans that came to the band lured by the lush classicism of earlier albums All Alone In An Empty House and A Church That Fits Our Needs will not be disappointed with Past Life. After all, the band are known for their unique orchestral sound, and Church, with its intense narrative of loss, drew lavish praise from all quarters, both as an “exquisite exercise in the seduction of melancholy” (Iowa Press-Citizen) and “a stirring blend of modest rusticity and urbane ambition” (New York Times). The haunting lyricism of Picker’s voice and melodies has not diminished in the new sparer approach, but instead rises to the fore, bringing out that timeless quality of the melodies that is the common ground of folk and pop music. This pop quality, buried but always present in previous efforts, shines on Past Life; not pop in any trivial, retro sense, but the yearning lilt of a Harry Nilsson or Mark Hollis, that floating melodicism that Relix found so “achingly beautiful.”