John Van Deusen is an uncommonly honest songwriter. As leader of The Lonely Forest, his willingness to expressively grapple with ambivalence over love and politics, paired with his band’s ability to capture the attendant highs and lows in tightly wound pop songs, has resulted in a body of work that twists and turns around pressing questions before exploding with feeling.
This powerful yet complicated sound landed the band on a major label for 2011’s Arrows—and likely led to its subsequent split from that label. On the follow-up, Adding Up the Wasted Hours (out now, Trans-, thelonelyforest.com), Van Deusen doesn’t let up, using his band’s recent struggles to create some of its strongest songs yet, rich with feeling and meticulous, layered, urgent instrumentation. It’s there from the start on opener “Pull the Pin,” where, over a vacillating, tense synthesizer line, the singer insists that “I try keeping my mind off things,” until the song bursts with Braydn Krueger’s drums, Eric Sturgeon’s steady bass, and Tony Ruland’s wending guitar as Van Deusen sings, “It feels great to admit that I just want to sit as the royalists stand.” Later, on “Warm, Happy,” the band states, in chorus, “We’re done waiting, we’re done hiding, we are ever reaching toward the end.”
But the band isn’t obsessed. Relationships still dominate on the brilliant “Left Hand Man” and the bopping title track, which isn’t about contractual wrangling, exactly, but about the domestic squabbles and life obligations that get in the way of love. It’s endlessly complicated stuff the band is dealing with here. Thankfully, they are still willing to share.
The Lonely Forest plays Sat., Nov. 9, at the Neptune. Tickets available here.