Chapel Hill band Lost in the Trees concluded nearly a year of touring (28 dates in the last 2 months alone, coast to coast and border to border) with a ravishing, highly emotional sold-out concert in Reynolds Theater. Thanks to Duke Performances, composer Ari Picker, who leads the band, was able to realize the sounds inside his head through a DP-supported collaboration with the New Music Raleigh Chamber Orchestra. Duke Performances director Aaron Greenwald has been making a point of presenting the cream of the local music scene, along with the best of the rest of the world, but this event was extra special. Picker’s exquisite compositions, which only gradually reveal the musical complexity shyly veiled by their folksong simplicity, attain gravitas and grandeur when bolstered by the orchestra. The sense of delicate layers remains, the tissues of sound are no less sheer, but there are more textures, and the colors are richer and even subtler.
The program was mostly songs from the band’s A Church That Fits Our Needs (2012, ANTI- and Trekky Records). In 2009, just as Picker was preparing to release the band’s first full-length album, the remarkable, haunting All Alone in an Empty House (2010, ANTI- and Trekky Records), his mother committed suicide. With his band-mates, Picker made art from the greatest mystery. The songs on A Church That Fits Our Needs take the melancholy that imbues the earlier album to a place of ethereal spirituality. They are beautiful. Picker’s high tenor on the lyrics with Emma Nadeau’s lovely voice in wordless support sent out wave after wave of powerful feelings. Yet — these are not raw emotions. The raw sorrow has been transmuted by time and thought into golden art.
Lost in the Trees’ website includes a fine little video about the making of A Church That Fits Our Needs, which, once you play it, reveals a selection of songs that may be played. You can also access other poetic videos, revealing the band’s visual as well as aural imaginativeness, on their site, as well as on the ANTI- site and Trekky’s.
Don’t miss the one for “Red.” It was the fourth song on the Reynolds concert program, and the one in which I fully understood why it was so meaningful for Picker and the band to work with the larger ensemble of New Music Raleigh. There’s an instrumental break after the first round of lyrics in which Jenavieve Varga’s violin makes an unsettling, almost ominous, scraping, and time seems to reverse then jump forward like tape on an old reel-to-reel deck. With the instrumental ensemble throwing another six violins and three violas into the mix, the sound becomes definitely, seductively ominous. I’d already been enjoying the lush, sweeping orchestration from the NMR Chamber Orchestra, which the Lost sextet version only hints at, but in “Red” I grasped how hugely the additional instrumentation can increase the emotional power of the songs. The one problem with adding the orchestra is that it makes the lyrics difficult or impossible to understand, depending on the age of one’s ears. I hated missing the words, but once I relaxed and let the voices just be instruments, it was fine. More than fine. The feeling was all there.
The concert concluded with an extended encore, much of it acoustic, and played by the sextet alone (and at last Nadeau rose from the keyboards and took up her accordion!). Just when I was beginning to feel surfeited with so much melancholy beauty, they said goodbye with one last song, “A Walk Around the Lake.” Sometimes that’s all it takes to clear your head.
Lost in the Trees will resume touring in Feb., 2013, when they will appear at Lincoln Center.