Vide Noir may be Lord Huron‘s third album, but it feels as if the stars are aligning for them to make some kind of breakthrough. The hype has been steadily building for this Los Angeles based quartet, ranging from a Ryan Adams tweet in September where he described them as “perfection” and asked “how are they not as big as any band?” to their song The Night We Met playing a key role in Netflix’s TV show Thirteen Reasons Why.
For their major label debut – Vide Noir is the band’s first release on Universal – Ben Schneider and company seem to have stepped up a gear, sonically speaking. Whereas before the prevailing atmosphere was that of whispery alt-folk, this time around the sound is more muscular, with nods to garage rock and producer Dave Fridmann’s previous collaborators The Flaming Lips and Tame Impala. While this may initially disappoint some long-term fans, it’s good to hear a band willing to explore new musical territories and not simply revisit old ground.
Besides, Lord Huron’s most recognisable signature – that of an almost all-encompassing melancholia – is very much present and correct. Everyone who wept tears over The Night We Met will find a lot to swoon over on Vide Noir. Lyrical motifs of feeling lost and alone are all over the record, with Schneider sadly intoning on opening track Lost In Time And Space “I don’t know who I am, I don’t know where I am”. Wait By The River is an utterly gorgeous ballad with a hint of doo-wop with lyrics that see Schneider waiting for his love to forgive him for some unspecified deed – “if we can’t be together, what’s the point of life?” he asks.
The beautiful When The Night Is Over continues the theme of feeling lost and grasping for a meaning to life (“tell me where did you go, I’ve been searching high and low”), and while there’s an undeniable sadness to many of Schneider’s songs, the sheer lushness of the melodies means that it never becomes overwhelming or depressing. However, it does make the album’s more upbeat numbers seem a bit jarring by comparison – Never Ever crashes in on a driving, pounding bassline that The Killers would be proud of, and the two-part Ancient Names sound like they’re from a different album altogether.
More successful is the Phil Spector-apeing introduction to Back From The Edge, which quickly develops into a theme from a lost Spaghetti Western, or the spacey, funky bleakness of the title track (Vide Noir translates as ‘black void’, and the band manage to conjure up exactly what the sound of floating in that black void would be like). There’s a theme running through the record which almost makes it a concept album – basically it involves Schneider travelling through space to find a lover in distress – but not following the story won’t ruin any enjoyment of the songs.
Although there’s much here that will easily fit on the soundtrack of another TV or indie film, it’s unsure whether Vide Noir will indeed lead to the huge commercial breakthrough for Lord Huron that many have predicted. Some may find it all a bit too intense, while long-term fans may be put off by the departure of their earlier, more pastoral sound. However, their ambition cannot be faulted, and when it comes time to look back on the band’s career, Vide Noir could be seen as a pivotal moment.