Losing a lead vocalist can be a fatal blow for a band. The lead singer is often the main point of contact between fans and a band, the spot where listeners connect with its members. Switching out that nexus or, as Lanterns on the Lake have done, simply foregoing it, can change a group’s appeal entirely (see: Mötley Crüe, Journey).
But on “Until The Colours Run,” their first album without male lead Adam Sykes (and his brother, bassist Brendan Sykes) Lanterns on the Lake are more compelling than they’ve ever been. The band’s other singer, Hazel Wilde, has stepped into the lone lead capably, lending a sense of once-missing congruency to the proceedings.
Wilde references the economic slump of the band’s country of origin, England, as inspiration for the album, and “Until The Colours Run” is an appropriately austere listen. Besides the title track and “You Soon Learn” — and only the instrumentation, there — it’s songs are tailored for solemn winter nights, destined to soundtrack some TV dramas in the near future.
Some tracks drive the point home with a plaintive violin, used both in elegant emphasis (“Elodie”) as a ploy to elevate otherwise standard indie downers (“The Buffalo Days,” “Another Tale From Another English Town”). The demo-turned-final cut “Green and Gold,” however, is a heart-rending example of what Lanterns is capable of in this mood. With a piano, her voice and a painful memory, Wilde devastates, revealing the album’s most affecting moment via distillation, not garnish. (To be fair, there are gorgeous moments of subtle accent to be found on the album: a thrown stone in the intro of “The Ghost That Sleeps In Me,” the wet crackles in “Picture Show.” Key word being subtle.)
Scattered bursts of light around the album’s otherwise dark canvas make for welcome contrast. Songs like “Elodi” and “The Ghost That Sleeps In Me” occasionally spring up from the basement in frenzied guitar chords, a la Lantern’s old tour mates, Explosions in the Sky. Title track “Until The Colors Run” provides a warm sonic middle and has the album at its most optimistic (and Dickensian), though even then, in a time of certain disaster: “So we’ll drink and we’ll sing on the bread line / Until the colors run.”
With the band and England in turmoil, Lanterns on the Lake let the stiff upper-lip slip in “Until The Colours Run.” Though the whole of the album isn’t as compelling as its scattered moments of beauty, it’s the group most focused effort to date.
Dylan Owens is Reverb’s all-purpose news blogger and album reviewer. You can read more from him in Relix magazine and the comment sections of WORLDSTARHIPHOP.