Well worth a listen
Reviewed March 2006
Not Them, You
By Lake Trout
Palm / Rx Records: 2005
To hear sound clips or learn more about this release, Turbula recommends viewing its Amazon.com entry.
If Lake Trout's star-crossed history is any guide, you won't hear anything from "Not Them, You" on the radio. But one listen to the Baltimore-based quintet's masterful fifth album is enough to get you scratching your head: If there's no room on American radio for this kind of great modern rock music, with hooks, beats and bravery to spare, why bother with the airwaves at all?
Fans of Radiohead and Coldplay will find something familiar and something new here, but Lake Trout's sound is distinctly their own and the musicianship of "Not Them You" rivals anyone's. Lake Trout started out nearly a decade ago as darlings of the jam-band set, but make no mistake, these are polished pop songs on offer here. On "Not Them, You," the dynamic grooves Lake Trout lives on are laced with lyrics of increasing maturity, compliments of lead singer and guitarist Woody Ranere.
"Riddle" could be the band's theme song a wistful meditation on the pursuit of elusive and dubious success. "It's not the game that I thought it would be," Ranere sings. "It looks so good I want it for me." But this is no navel-gazing whine: The catchy, Halloween-esque piano riff supplied by multi-instrumentalist Matt Pierce propels "Riddle" forward on top of propulsive beats fired off by dynamic drummer Michael Lowry. Melancholic introspection never sounded so catchy.
While capturing a devoted fan base on the Mid-Atlantic club circuit, Lake Trout hasn't yet broken through to what passes for a mainstream in today's fractured music scene.
When Ranere sings on "If I Can," "It's not the same as when we started/like so many games it gets harder now," his insights apply equally well to the straits of romantic relationships and the band's struggles to pursue its artistic vision.
In songs that address war and peace, materialism, maturing relationships and the band's decade-long career of defying categorization, Ranere offers a palette of perspectives both more personal and more direct than Lake Trout's previous efforts. This is a more confrontational and tangible Lake Trout, confident that its hooks are strong enough to carry the listener into uncomfortable territory.
The album's first single harks back to another era's civil confrontation a version of "Street Fighting Man" far removed from the raw Rolling Stones original. On its first recorded cover, Lake Trout coats this anthem of unfocused aggression with the kind of sugary '60s pop that competed for airplay with the more dangerous Stones. The reinvention lets Lake Trout confront the daunting legacy of the Glimmer Twins (the songwriting team of Keith Richards and Mick Jagger) and reveals the relevance of lyrics that are easy to dismiss as dated.
How to respond to a troubling and troubled war is also the theme of "Forward March," one of album's strongest songs. On its most political song yet, the band sheds its cultivated obscurity to explore the helplessness many feel as war enshrouds the nation. "The captain's gone crazy," Ranere sings. "Can someone stop him maybe/we'll see/Forward March ... Grab a gun and aim with me."
A more meditative atmosphere runs through songs like "King" and "Systematic Self," the latter another of the album's standout tracks. With Ranere waxing nostalgic about good loves gone by, "Systematic Self" benefits from more great drumming from Lowry and a moving riff from the guitars of Ranere and Ed Harris. In these songs especially, it's as if the Trouters are providing the soundtrack for a movie that hasn't yet been filmed.
Not every song works as well. On "Honey," Ranere doubles his own voice to create a ghostly vocal for what amounts to an apology and fare-thee-well to a lover. The effect is more intriguing than the song.
Atmospheric interludes called "I" and "II" showcase, albeit too briefly, Matt Pierce's flute. Pierce's chameleonic creativity has long been a staple of Lake Trout's live show, and longtime fans may long for more than "Not Them, You" provides.
The closing song, a lovely instrumental called "Keep Your Eyes Shut," wouldn't sound out of place on one of Ry Cooder's graceful guitar soundtracks in the 1980s, like "Paris, Texas." Ranere's guitar cries and moans over a soft strum, and it's easy to imagine an island overlook with palm trees echoing with this tune. The guitar playing is inspired; it's one of those rare instrumentals you wish was much longer.
I've followed Lake Trout since the band's birth in Baltimore a decade ago; Ranere was my college roommate. But this album doesn't need a cheerleader; it just needs a listen. Odds are you'll take your ear-buds out and wonder why you hadn't heard of Lake Trout sooner. Good question.
Review by Denis Devine. Denis is a writer living in San Diego, Calif.