Fuse the most fragile and graceful end of the folk music spectrum to the most luminous properties of cinemascope rock, and you have the stunning debut album from Newcastle-based sextet Lanterns On The Lake. Following two rapturously received EPs, Gracious Tide, Take Me Home warrants the use of often over-played adjectives such as “celestial”, “swooning” and “absolutely bloody gorgeous.” For an album debut, that’s something special, because most bands don’t reach such an exalted plateau until they’ve matured.
On that exalted plateau, Gracious Tide… uses a smorgasbord of instruments (guitars, violin, mandolin, piano, synths, glockenspiels) to paint a variety of beautiful vistas, from the ambient ‘Ships In The Rain’ to the galloping ‘A Kingdom’, from the six-minute layers of ‘The Places We Call Home’ to the skeletal 73-second finale ‘Not Going Back To The Harbour’, which singer and elected spokesperson Hazel Wilde sees as, “a dark twist,” to the record. There’s a compelling drama to Lanterns On The Lake; the way the opening track ‘Lungs Quicken’ shifts from dreamy restraint and slinky beats to a full-blown crescendo indicates the true power at their fingertips.
‘Lungs Quicken’ also points to the way Lanterns music resists easy categorisation, with folk and electronica vying with rock atmospherics. One band that all six feel influenced by is Low, and you might guess from LOTL’s sound that Sigur Rós are also admired. But then Hazel puts Bob Dylan at the top of the heap, so the current of this particular Lake run deep…
The band formed in 2008, combining a group of friends who had all played in various bands on the local music scene. The members are connected in different ways; Hazel (vocals, guitar) and Paul Gregory (guitars, electronics) are engaged; the pair used to be in a band with Ol Ketteringham (drums, piano); Sarah Kemp (violin) and Hazel are old schoolmates; while Adam Sykes (vocals, guitar) and Brendan Sykes (bass) are brothers. They’re called Lanterns On The Lake and it’s easy to see how the name and their sound are one and the same.
That said, Hazel says the water image of the album title only coincidentally fits with the band name. “A lot of lyrics were inspired by me and Paul moving back to the coast [between Tynemouth and North Shields], where I grew up, after we’d been living near the city centre,” she explains. “They’re also memories of growing up here, the feeling of homesickness, and stories of people around us and of the sea. The title Gracious Tide, Take Me Home seemed to sum up all the themes.”
The album was produced by Paul, as he did the band’s first two EPs, The Starlight EP (2009) and Misfortunes & Minor Victories (2010) Budgets being tiny for the EPs, the band borrowed an eight-track recorder and captured every intimate breath and soaring crescendo in their own homes and at an isolated house in Northumberland. Handmade sleeves for both EPs reinforced the self-sufficient approach, as did a series of gigs (“we were reluctant to play normal venues like pubs”) in places such as a boathouse on the Tyne river, and the Tan Hill Inn in North Yorkshire (famously, the highest pub in Britain, an event is now an annual mini-festival). Relishing their independence, the band eschewed a recording studio for the album; “you only get to make your debut album once,” says Hazel, “so we wanted it to be personal and honest and special to us, so we recorded everything in our own houses again. Though the loud bits were done in a basement of a shop in Newcastle!”
With more of a budget than before, and more experience, ‘If I’ve Been Unkind’ (sung by Adam) and ‘I Love You, Sleepyhead’ from Starlight and ‘A Kingdom’ from Misfortunes… were re-recorded for the album, to reflect their current live incarnations. The remaining eight tracks are brand new. Given the emotional heft and melodic riches on show, it’s no surprise that Bella Union are releasing the album after signing the band long-term. “We’re big fans of the label and it felt like a perfect home for our music,” says Hazel.
There might be a vein of sadness through this music – ‘Ships In The Rain’ was inspired by a local fisherman who went missing at sea, and ‘A Kingdom’ (and the Misfortunes… EP) was inspired by a book of letters sent home by WW2 soldiers – but there is just as much hope in ‘Lungs Quicken’, ‘Keep on Trying’ and ‘You’re Almost There’, where fear and insecurities are banished by self-belief; “the feeling that you’re going places,” as Hazel says.
Mirroring the sentiment of the album title, ‘I Love You, Sleepyhead’ and ‘Places We Call Home’ draw on the comfort and security of home, friendship and memory. But Gracious Tide, Take Me Home is imbued with that feeling of going places. Pack your instruments, boys and girls; it’s going to be a glorious ride.