On their ninth album, the Pacific Northwest mainstays push past their folksy twee inclinations towards the avant experimentations of early Stereolab.
Since forming in Olympia in 2005, the Washington indie pop group LAKE have carved a niche for themselves as enduring purveyors of good vibes. Along the way, they became Pacific Northwest mainstays, releasing albums on regional bastion K Records and serving as the backup band of Anacortes icon Karl Blau. It feels felicitous that one of their gentle tunes served as the closing theme for the whimsical but quietly devastating animated show Adventure Time.
But LAKE have ripened with age. On their ninth record, Roundelay, the band push past their folksy twee inclinations towards the avant experimentations of early Stereolab, who themselves had roots in jangle pop. Early hypnotic highlight “She Plays One Chord” sounds like a lost Peng! cut in all the best ways: jazzy strings, cascading synthesizers, and abstract lyrics refracted through Ashley Eriksson’s dreamy warble. The self-titled opener, perhaps the brightest song to ever namedrop punk gremlin GG Allin (in addition to Mork & Mindy and Cyndi Lauper) plays with unusual time signatures and kaleidoscopic organ humming. Later on “Bubble,” the band mimics the movement of a pressure gauge, their tone shifting from droning to ebullient as they describe water erupting through the ground.
LAKE is now a trio composed of Eriksson, Eli Moore, and Andrew Dorsett—each share various instrumental duties—and their music emits a steady sense of tenderhearted introspection. A glowing cover of Bert Jansch’s “Tell Me What Is True Love” snuggles right into the album’s theme of growth. On “Resolution,” a blissful tune built off a simple chord progression, Moore sings of being fulfilled by companionship, but also the occasional distance that results in growth: “It was so many days/To be away from you/But it gave us a chance/To find out who is who.” “Forgiveness” is similarly contemplative, as Eriksson wonders: “Look in your heart, what do you hold?/Do you hold on too hard to hold?” Though its tempo never drifts above a pleasant amble, “Forgiveness” incorporates horns, Vocoder distortion, and a rumbling bassline with a playfulness that recalls like-minded peers Mega Bog or Iji.
Near its middle, Roundelay can feel a bit one-note, its pleasantry blurring together. The nursery-rhyming of “Don’t Pray for Me” borders on sophomoric, especially compared to the thoughtfulness of other tracks. But Roundelay picks up towards its end. “The Hanged Man” pairs ethical ponderings with ’70s AM-radio sunshine. Unlike the minimalist verses of earlier songs, “Talons & Feathers” contains an assemblage of vivid details and inside jokes—soaring eagles, overflowing wine, and matadors. But what cuts through this melange is a poignant depiction of remove: “Just like house guests/You are there, I am here/On the couch with my problems.” Roundelay can slip into languor, but the understated poeticism of moments like this prevails.