Arbor Lights – Hatherton Lake

Hatherton Lake cover art

Artist Arbor Lights
Album Hatherton Lake
Genre Post-Rock
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Release 01 July 2013
Rating: Excellent

As a musician should you always be striving to do something nobody else has done before? In the musical world, where the phrase “It’s all been done before” gets bandied around by those who fail to find inspiration in their instruments,I find myself frustrated that bands are unable to see the bigger picture; that bigger picture being context. If you can compose a piece of music that creates a response in you and your target audience then you have succeeded. It does not matter that the chord progression has been used before, that the melody is too simple, the vocals too cliché. It does not matter. What does matter is that you have evoked a response in the listener; you have connected with them on a vulnerable, personal level and you don’t even have to have met them. So what is my point? My point is that it is OK not to break boundaries. It is OK to compose something that is not completely new and innovative. It is OK, because so long as you can make your listener feel something you are having an impact on that small period of that person’s life. That is something special. That is something unique.

Hatherton Lake‘ is Arbor Lights’ debut album and their third release. They have not broken any boundaries here but the progression in their sound is one of maturity and a firm understanding of who they are and what they do. Their debut self-titled EP (2012) was a collection of tracks that held a proud middle finger to anybody who says that a Post-Rock track needs to be a long and sprawling experience. All but one track was between two and four minutes long and made of catchy, rocky hooks that came and went without the notion of outstaying their welcome. In some ways the track structure on ‘Hatherton Lake‘ has regressed back to their ‘On The Sea‘ (2011) release. This was a single that spanned over six minutes and built on a simple melody with loud bits and quiet bits; a young band testing the water of the Post-Rock genre.

So here we are with their first album. Longer songs with more complex structure like ‘On the Sea‘, with more of those catchy hooks that made their self-titled effort such a joy to listen to. The sound this time is bigger, the layers denser, the ideas more closely explored; but this is still Arbor Lights and that is what makes this release such a success.

“The Silent City” washes the listener with waves of fuzzy guitar until another one of their catchy single note riffs interacts with crunchy guitar chords while the drums tumble over each other. Arbor lights know how to build the layers into a majestic crescendo and this track truly delivers and then breaks down with really simple melodic lines only to prepare for the second track. “Interstellar” is probably the most disappointing track on the album, but only because it is the last remnants of the band they were. Bouncy, joyful and uplifting; it delivers everything you’d expect from them and is perfect as the album’s first single.

Damascus” is where the album really starts to show newer influences. Bowed bass drones for the first two minutes and then provides a canvas for heavily delayed guitar to paint on. It’s completely absent of drums until four minutes in when they roll in from the distance and the other instruments build. When any other Arbor Lights’ track would usually end this one evolves with a brilliant ambient noise section with effective melodic lines that really make this a highlight of the album. Cornet (played by William Bull of Sunrise Over Europe) and a touch of Glockenspiel elevate “Silhouettes” into more than just a filler track between ‘Damascus‘ and the track I consider to be the best track Arbor Lights have ever done, ‘The Mayor and The Diver‘.

Hatherton Lake is a lake in Walsall (UK). Named after Lord Hathertonits, lore includes a story of a diver, who died in a search for the body of the Mayor of Walsall; who had drowned. With that in mind I can tell you that this track (an extended version of “Coda” from the band’s self-titled EP) conjures the panic you could associate with seeing the light fade through the ever stilling surface of the lake as you sink, seemingly peacefully, to your death . Sustained notes dance between chaotic harmonics and fuzz slowly engulfs the music as it progresses. It is Arbor Lights at their most atmospheric whilst still maintaining the sound they are claiming for themselves; hearty instrumental rock.

This carefully crafted album is a triumph. The whole package runs smoothly from one track to the next and concludes without me feeling it could be longer or, conversely, thinking that there needs to be more. Even in its darkest moments there is a feeling of optimism that runs through each track from beginning to end. Arbor Lights are staying true to themselves and carefully developing their sound with small steps. While not breaking ground within the post-rock genre they are staunchly claiming their territory. Given time and more exposure I have no doubt that they could become a comparative…

“Hey, have you listened to (…)? They sound a lot like Arbor Lights

I’ll admit to welling up with pride as the first track started playing. You’ve done an incredible job, chaps. If you like post-rock you cannot fail to like this album. Do not miss it.