Is it wrong to think that almost all music, at least of the vaguely ethereal variety, would sound better if played from two (or more) stereos at once, staggered slightly in time? I accidentally did this while listening to Lost in the Trees' All Alone in an Empty House. The first take of the music came from iTunes, while the second, trailing closely behind, played via an automatic stream on Trekky Records' Web page. Suddenly, string parts unfolded into a dense, sylvan thicket, like arms of ivy climbing into each other. It sounded, y'know, lost.
When I realized my mistake and closed the streaming player, stripping the overgrowth, the music retreated into another post-Sufjan clearing: an Arcadian construction of emotional wilderness hemmed by string sections, strummed acoustic guitars and underage gentility. "I'm so selfless here," Ari Picker sings on the titular opener, sounding not unlike Death Cab For Cutie's Ben Gibbard. Picker samples creaking floorboards, introduces gorgeous, glassy walls of minimalist strings, and changes "selfless" to "lonely" in the refrain as a half-dozen more musicians come a-gliding, eventually punctuating Picker's strum with what sounds like a singing saw. Despite the company, Picker indeed sounds lonely.
The ghostly garden party soon thins out: There are ominous swells on "Walk Around the Lake" (more saw, too), a prelude and some pizzicato pluckings on "Song for the Painter," and a pair of instrumental string-led excursions ("MVT I Sketch" and "MVT II Sketch"). The arrangements never reach the creativity of either the title track or—more disappointingly—Picker's debut EP last year, Time Taunts Me, which was nine minutes shorter and a good deal more ambitious. Still, Picker's songwriting retains its charms: "For all those with broken hearts, I know what you're going through," Picker sings on "Song for the Painter," a Platonic statement of purpose if ever one existed. On "Wooden Walls of this Forest Church," Picker sings of following "the path of a white doe, the wooden walls of this forest church protect[ing him] from falling snow," setting up a nearly perfect short sequence of finger-picking and organ.
Besides its album-length vision, sympathetic track sequencing and enforced multi-format release (vinyl, CD and mp3s for one low price), the album does little to distinguish itself. "If I can't heal my heart, forgive me!" Picker and a gruffly ecstatic Arcade Fire-like choir half-chant on "Fireplace," one of the disc's few sing-along choruses. Barring those few moments, though, the music ends up sounding quite plain. If only for its seriousness, it seems like Lost in the Trees should be valuable to someone, especially if the chorus of "Fireplace" or the vague country tropes of "Love on My Side" lodge themselves long enough for a listener to keep listening, waiting patiently for the tendrils to tangle, for the branches to close back around.
Lost in the Trees releases All Alone in an Empty House Friday, Sept. 12, at Cat's Cradle. Midtown Dickens opens, along with a movie and Kelly Crisp of The Rosebuds performing stand-up comedy.