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Published: 2002/12/09
by Jesse Jarnow

Lake Trout, Knitting Factory, NYC- 11/30

NYC ROLL-TOP: Trout Fishing in America

A debate that often comes up when dealing with jambands – both fans and the
musicians themselves – is the question of song craftsmanship, which usually
leads into a discussion of album making. In interviews and press releases,
it's fairly common to see musicians say something along the lines of "yeah,
we jam, but what we're really interested in is songwriting". Not to
doubt the ingenuousness of the musicians, but what this often amounts to are
earnest attempts at retreading old ground. They produce thoughtful lyrics,
simple and careful chord changes, maybe even decent harmonies, but – usually – it just comes off as sounding like retreaded classic rock that could've
been written any time in the past 30 years. Fuck that.

What is good about many great songs (or even songwriting genres) is the
invention embedded in them. In theory, a country-rock song written in 1972
and 2002 should have a chance at being equally cool (after all, it's only
the song that matters), but there is something different about
country-rock pioneer Gram Parsons and current country-rock poster-boy Ryan
Adams. Call it an "aura" or something (to borrow from Walter Benjamin). So
it goes. As such, there's something wonderful when the ethos of something
broader can build itself into the structure of the song… which brings us
to Lake Trout. We'll get back to this songwriting thing shortly. But, simply
put, and I'm not being hyperbolic in the least: they kick ass. Let me count
the ways.

1.) The band's stunning reverence for noise and pure sound. At their
Knitting Factory show over Thanksgiving weekend, they began their set with a
duet between guitarist Woody Ranere and keyboardist Matt Pierce. It was a
gently building improvisation, almost ambient. Throughout their set, they
dropped clusters of feedback and blood-curdling screams where other
improvising bands would cram a few dozen notes or style switches. Each of
the band's gestures, which felt spontaneous within a well thought out
aesthetic, carried that much more weight.

2.) The band's incredible, nearly violent energy. Yes, Lake Trout can be
incredibly angsty, and this can be off-putting to many listeners, but their
music is exhilarating. The band – who went on well after midnight – throbbed
through their set of music. It was danceable, and not in any Particle-like
faux-electronica kinda way. Nor was it funky in the least. Most importantly,
the band demonstrated their ability to propel themselves through songs. And,
like my friend Tommy said: they knew when to quit. Everything played through
to a logical ending, and nothing felt left out — like having an entire
20-minute jam compressed into a much smaller space.

3.) The band's ability to be quiet. Much of Lake Trout's excellent
semi-released album, Another One Lost, is filled with breathy
Radiohead-like textures. The band has learned how to make this kind of music
function in bar and club settings, mostly by imbuing it with the tension of
the rest of their material. They've also done well in finding the dynamics
that are perceivable above crowd noise. Many of the tenets of jamband
songwriting, I think, come from the logistics of playing their music in
noisy rooms filled with semi-inebriated patrons. There's something about
mid-tempo, mid-range funk rhythms that manage to cut through. Lake Trout has
created an almost entirely alternative kind of language, but one that is
equally derived from endless gigging.

4.) The way the three above characteristics manifest themselves in the
band's songwriting. Where a lot of bands on the circuit claim the Talking
Heads as influence, it's usually for their fusion of funk rhythms and
college-educated humor. With Remain In Light (and, to a slightly
lesser degree, Speaking In Tongues), the band pioneered a minimalist
style of songwriting based on the simple repetition of figures (listen, for
example, to the guitar part that runs all the way through "This Must Be The
Place"). Instead of having one musician playing a melody, while others
provide support through rhythm, the Heads created a different division of
labor. Lake Trout has done something akin to this and it's damn commendable.

While Lake Trout explored electronic/dance territory (a direction that got
them frequently lumped with the Disco Biscuits and Sound Tribe Sector 9),
they've since moved on into more indie rock-based waters — still holding
tight to what they learned by playing ridiculous jungle beats. They sound
like 2002. Pretty soon, they will sound like 2003. Lake Trout are, at their
core, a band exploring what it means to be ineffably modern. And that's
pretty cool.

Jesse Jarnow can't believe it when
people are strange

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