The Lonely Forest has always been a heart-on-the-sleeve kind of band. So we shouldn’t be surprised that the title of the Anacortes quartet’s upcoming fourth full-length release, due out October 8, bristles some. Adding Up the Wasted Hours. It’s difficult to read that and not think about the constraints that come with being signed to a big record label.
It’s not that the two-plus years that have passed since the release of the band’s major label debut, Arrows, is all that long. Band leader John Van Deusen is just one of those prolific and somewhat anxious artist with an eye forever on the future. His artistic push helped the band to release three full-length albums and two EPs of earnest and emphatic pop songs in its first five years, prior to the last two years of relative silence. Around the time that the band signed to Trans (then an imprint of Atlantic Records) three years ago, an energized Van Deusen told me that he had his next four records already mapped out.
But major labels too often mean more hurdles and clearly the songwriter has had to pace himself in the current arrangement. I can imagine him adding up those wasted hours when he could be writing and recording more and more dramatic pop songs. As he and his bandmates adjust, there is some concern at their development. Patience is a virtue, yes, and it should be in the toolkit of any successful mature artist. But for a band that hangs so much of its identity on a charged manic energy and a kind of unfiltered emotional purity, like the Lonely Forest does, there can be something important lost in the trade up to maturity. Within this context comes the first taste of the band’s next release, the bright and rumbling existential quandary “Warm/Happy,” available for free download here.
Lacking the bombast and dramatic tension of the band’s strongest previous efforts, “Warm/Happy” is more a pop meditation, a message song that punches a few lines insistently. But the words being offered up are strange. Built around the oft-repeated line “Hate to relate so we synthesize,” the song would seem to be a critique on artificial human connection, perhaps that provided by social media. But then Van Deusen sings, in his curlicue tenor, “We’re warm and happy.” Is that a snide knock on complacency? Or is it an embrace of a new elevated existence for humanity? Let’s consult the press release
“‘Warm/Happy,’ lyrically, is a self-assuring song,” reads a collective statement from the band. “I think artists can have a hard time connecting with people outside of their art. Our music is what bridges that gap and helps us communicate.”
This meta explanation has the sheen of positivity to it. Yet, at the heart of this description is a deep frustration, an admission that a true connection is unattainable. That the frustration is downplayed here makes me think that the bandmembers do, perhaps, have too much time on their hands. Frustration, plus time, can equal revolution, but more often it results in equivocation. I fear the Lonely Forest has fallen victim to the latter.
And, yet, there seems to be some hope for revolution, be it personal or something bigger. The song ends on an appealing, hopeful chant-along. “We’re done waiting,” Van Deusen sings, “We’re done hiding. We are ever reaching toward the end.” But to what end?