Not Them, You
ver the course of a decade and four studio albums, Lake Trout have shed their skin several times. Formed in the mid-90's as five college students from Baltimore, they were a crowd-pleasing jam band with jazz chops on their self-titled 1997 debut. By 1999's Volume For The Rest Of It, they began to flirt with drum'n'bass rhythms and distance themselves from the jam band scene. Meanwhile, no one seemed to love drummer Michael Lowry's dazzlingly skillful live reproduction of programmed jungle beats more than Disco Biscuits fans on the jam festival circuit, but the band also began to play raves and indie rock clubs in attempts to diversify their sound and audience.
After a couple years of failing to alienate their hippie fanbase with some slightly eclectic influences, Lake Trout turned to writing short, concise songs to set themselves apart from the scene, culminating in 2002's Another One Lost (re-released nationally in 2003). Key to their courtship of indie and alt-rock audiences was a series of co-headlining shows with the Dismemberment Plan, who wrote the drum'n'bass-influenced "The Other Side" as an admitted homage to Lake Trout.
The leaps of sound and motivation from one album to the next that have defined Lake Trout's career thus far seem to stall out on Not Them, You, their 2nd album on Palm Pictures/Rx Records. Three years after Another One Lost, they've made an incredibly similar album, whereas they used to change their sound drastically not only from year to year but sometimes from night to night. This isn't necessarily a bad thing, as it means Lake Trout have probably found a sound they're comfortable with and are done running from every previous incarnation. But it's also not great news.
Not Them, You continues the transparent worship of Radiohead that was in full swing on Lake Trout's last album. There's less Kid A-style borrowing from electronica's greatest hits, but frontman Woody Ranere is still drearily singing elliptical lyrics in a strained falsetto like so many other disciples of Thom Yorke. And tracks like "King" sound almost like blatant attempts to rewrite "Street Spirit" or "Knives Out." Ranere's vocals have never been Lake Trout's greatest asset, and arguably the band was at their best during the period that their material was almost entirely instrumental, as captured on the 2000 live album Alone At Last. But on Not Them, You, his voice sounds more confident and at home in the band's music than it ever has before.
Lake Trout's pursuit of songcraft is still a hit and miss affair. The production and arrangements on Not Them, You are booming and practically arena-ready, but rarely support a particularly memorable tune. At their best, though, up-tempo tracks like "Now We Know" and "Have You Ever" do pound away convincingly, and they scarcely sound like a bunch of jamming jazz nerds trying to rock anymore.
The album's most puzzling moment is the Dave Fridmann-produced rendition of "Street Fighting Man," a sleepy, ethereal cover of the Rolling Stones' classic swathed in the Flaming Lips producer's trademark reverb and ambiance. Lake Trout have always been a versatile cover band, recreating beats by Amon Tobin and Aphex Twin as ably as songs by Helmet and the Pixies. But there's no compelling reason for their limp reading of the Stones anthem to be given prime real estate on a studio album, much less be the only track helmed by a big name producer and released as its first single. Maybe singers in rock'n'roll bands just really like to sing that line about singin' in a rock'n'roll band.
Lake Trout's sound may have once been defined by Lowry's busy beats and multi-instrumentalist Matt Pierce's flute and saxophone, but on Not Them, You, they're more of a guitar band than ever. Lowry stays in mid-tempo rock drumming mode and never busts out a flashy jungle break, and Pierce keeps a low profile, adding subtle keyboard textures and the occasional flute riff. But guitarists Ranere and Ed Harris drive most of the songs with the interplay between their churning strums and snaky slide guitar leads. In fact, the slide guitars are perhaps the greatest pleasures of the album, bolstering "Pill"'s tremendous chorus and soaring solo, and ending the album on a high note with the tense, linear melody of the gorgeously spooky instrumental "Keep Your Eyes Shut."
Not Them, You was originally planned as a double album, with the 2nd disc consisting of some of the band's frequent forays into down-tempo instrumental territory. Ultimately, however, the album ended up as one disc with several instrumentals peppered throughout the vocal tracks, much like Another One Lost. And also like Another One Lost, the album ends with two consecutive instrumentals. All the parallels between their last two albums don't flatter Not Them, You, which pales in comparison to its predecessor, still Lake Trout's most accomplished and consistent studio album. They may have applied the "if it ain't broke, don't fix it" rule on Not Them, You, but it would've been nice if they hadn't broken their precedent for restlessly changing and evolving instead.
Reviewed by: Al Shipley
Reviewed on: 2005-09-12