Lost in the Trees moves forward with ‘Past Life’

dmenconi@newsobserver.comFebruary 27, 2014 

“Past Life” by Lost in the Trees.

  • Details

    Who: Lost in the Trees, with All Tiny Creatures

    When: 8 p.m. Friday

    Where: Cat’s Cradle, 300 E. Main St., Carrboro

    Cost: $15

    Details: 919-967-9053 or catscradle.com

On its first two albums, Chapel Hill’s Lost in the Trees managed to be both expansive and very tightly focused. Early incarnations of the group featured large ensembles of up to a dozen musicians producing lush orchestral sounds. But in terms of artistic vision, it was kind of a one-man band because Lost in the Trees founder Ari Picker controlled almost every aspect of the process, including producing both albums.

But that’s not the case for “Past Life,” the exceedingly lovely new Lost in the Trees album. In contrast to past symphonic flourishes, “Past Life” is spare and rhythmic. And part of that came from Picker turning the album over to an outside producer for the first time (Nicolas Vernhes, whose other credits include Dirty Projectors and Deerhunter).

“It was great to get other opinions and go with them after two albums of me having complete control,” says Picker. “I think Nicolas’ biggest contribution was stripping arrangements down to the barest essence of every song. It felt good to subtract after two records of cramming in as much as possible. It was a less-is-more kind of thing where all individual sounds can be bigger and more expansive. You really hear the textures and their elements as opposed to this big whirlwind roar.”

Even with more outside input than usual, “Past Life” was still a very hands-on process for Picker. Different songs have a lot of repetitive elements, pinging sounds and riffs conveying an almost obsessive undertone. Much of that came from Picker spending mornings alone in the studio experimenting.

“I’d just let whatever was gonna happen happen,” he says. “I could be totally creative without necessarily having any direction or expectations. Then I’d go home with little bits I’d recorded, bring my editing brain into it and move things around. The process of creating and editing were totally separate, to the point of being in different buildings.”

While the tone of “Past Life” is not exactly jolly, it’s far less somber than its predecessor. Then again, it would have to be, given just how solemn 2012’s “A Church That Fits Our Needs” was. Many of the songs on “Church” were about the 2008 suicide of Picker’s mother, whose shadow hung heavily over the album.

“I certainly tried to keep my own narrative out of it this time,” Picker says. “I wanted to make something I was not in the center of for once, and that felt really good. When I was in the midst of it, I actually thought it WOULD be jollier than it ended up. I guess that’s just a melancholy vibe I always have. Well, maybe not melancholy, but sort of ethereal. I do think this one has more sunshine than the last one. I hope the albums will keep getting brighter.”

After playing an album-release show Friday night at Cat’s Cradle, Lost in the Trees will hit the road for an extended tour featuring a more stripped-down lineup than in the past. For his next phase, Picker hopes to turn Lost in the Trees into more of a conventional band while making some of his more classically oriented compositions into a separate undertaking.

“In the past, it’s been really difficult to present Lost in the Trees in a live club setting with that kind of sound,” he says. “Trying to mimic what sounds nice about strings and acoustic instruments through a rock-club sound system is challenging. So I’d like to split those worlds up. The band will become more of a band, while the chamber pieces will be played by chamber groups in halls. I hope that helps me branch out, do some things I never have before.”

Menconi: 919-829-4759 or www.newsobserver.com/OnTheBeat

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