Not Them, You – Lake Trout
Lake Trout has come a long way from its original jamband tag. Since forming on Baltimore's underground music circuit in the early 1990s, the quintet has breezed through hip-hip influenced jazz, jungle-based livetronica, and Radiohead-ready paranoia, before landing in the post-modern pond that fills its newest album, Not Them, You. In certain respects, Lake Trout's latest evolution is expected. The group has always morphed to meet the day’s current trends, while retaining its knack for experimentation and sonic repetition. So, while Not Them, You sounds like a departure from any of Lake Trout’s previous studio efforts, it’s also a natural evolution — one which finds the group more comfortable in its skin than anytime in recent memory.
Unlike many bands who’ve struggled to shrug off their jamband label, Lake Trout deserves to swim into hipper waters. While the group has always incorporated an
element of improvisation into its sound, Lake Trout’s approach traditionally favors slow, gradual repetition over lighting-quick solos. Since discovering Radiohead in early 2001, Lake Trout has crept closer and closer to traditional indie-rock, covering its dark jams with a thick, metallic layer of skin. Though Lake Trout’s latest release contains many of the same ingredients that characterized its previous albums, they are hidden within more carefully defined song structures and under more industrial guitar work.
On 2002’s Another One Lost, Lake Trout’s finest studio effort to date, frontman Woody Ranere fashioned himself Baltimore’s answer to Thom Yorke. Unquestionably the most influential band in post-millennium era, Radiohead struck a familiar chord with Lake Trout through its blend of electronics and song-based rock. In fact, Radiohead unconsciously guided Lake Trout, along with its peers Brothers Past and, to a certain degree, Sound Tribe Sector 9, from the Disco Biscuits’ trance-fusion into more modern electronic influenced indie-rock. But, with Not Them, You, Lake Trout has shed its last remaining livetronica influences, replacing its dance beats with simpler, but edgier, rhythms.
The first signs of Lake Trout’s evolution arrive early on one of Not Them, You’s signature numbers, “Pill.” While Alone at Last found the group favoring computers over jungle-influenced beats, “Pill” owes more to industrial rock than OK Computer effects. “Forward March” juxtaposes some of Lake Trout’s most beautiful work with some of its noisiest, as if to showcase the ying-and-yang of modern-day society. On the late album track, “Systematic Skin,” the quintet hides in the shadow of its own darkness, consciously losing itself in harrowing loops. A small chunk of rough guitar parts tied together by the echoes of a catchy chorus, “Have You Ever” is driven by the urgency of James Griffith’s pulsating bass. Similarly, the album’s first single, a cover of the Rolling Stones’ “Street Fighting Man,” updates the Glimmer Twins’ bad boy image with quick, rough and angular guitar from longtime band focal-point Ed Harris. In modern society, even the Stones’ tough guy imagery can be seen as a sign of deeper insecurities.
But, while Lake Trout seems to have discovered speed, its bedrock is still more deeply rooted in Steve Reich’s gradual repetition than the Disco Biscuits’ clean fusion. The album’s opening track, “Shiny Wrapper,” seems to declare Not Them, You’s message. As one peels the skin off Lake Trout’s dark, Modest Mouse-influenced work, it reveals the same rhythmic connection Griffith and Michael Lowry have spent a decade trying to cement. “Riddle” especially seems to contain the pulsating repetition which served as the hook to Lake Trout’s most popular and longest standing track “Number 2.” Yet, Ranere and Harris have built such a thick wall of guitar, it’s hard to imagine that group listened to anything before the Pixies.
Perhaps the biggest evolutionary step Lake Trout has taken is Ranere’s vocal parts. Formed as an instrumental collective, Lake Trout never placed vocals at the forefront of its sound. When Ranere did begin to use his voice as a song-oriented hook on Alone at Last, Ranere seemed to fall victim to Yorke’s introspection. While Ranere has found his own voice with Not Them, You, it’s more of a scream than a smooth instrument. In an era defined by bands like Modest Mouse and The Mars Volta, it’s only fitting that Lake Trout update Ranere’s voice along with the rest of the band’s instruments. The only inconsistency is “Street Fighting Man,” which is vocally awash in the Flaming Lips’ lush atmospheric sounds (not surprisingly the track is produced by the same team which helmed Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots).
Sprinkled throughout Not Them, You are reminders of the group’s almost forgotten past. Two instrumental passes serve as mid-album breaks, dark chunks culled from the group’s occasional ambient shows. Multi-instrumentalist Matt Pierce, whose satanic flute parts characterized Lake Trout’s earlier work, is relegated to the more traditional role of keyboardist throughout much of Not The, You. Yet, Pierce does sneak in a bit of flute, hinting at the more jazz-influenced beast hiding beneath numbers like “Have You Ever.” When his flute emerges on “King,” it’s used as emphasis — a hint of the band long suppressed beneath its own fluctuating creativity. But within the group’s arc, Not Them, You is as natural evolution.
Not Them, You is not an easy listen and that seems to be the point. After half a decade of work, Lake Trout has finally squeezed the last bit of granola flavoring out of its creative juices.