Thursday, February 5, 2009

KQED Music: Loch Lomond - Trumpets for Paper Children

Prejudice is never an attractive trait, but sometimes it's completely unavoidable. Forgivable, even. One such instance might be when an act describes itself as a "chamber folk ensemble," an unfortunate choice of words that screams "band geek" almost as loudly as naming your Portland, Oregon band after Scotland's largest lake says "geography dork."

But you shouldn't allow these minor (albeit troubling) details to stop you from giving Loch Lomond a chance to redeem themselves. After all, you have very little to lose: the band's new EP Trumpets for Paper Children is available as a free download from Hush Records, and it would be unwise for any of us to let our assumptions get in the way of a free lunch in these grim economic times. And taking this small leap of faith will bring rich rewards. Sure, the music skirts the fringes of pretension in places, momentarily reinforcing some of the preconceptions and fears you might have started out with, but there is more than enough invention and imagination packed into these five tracks to compensate.

That "chamber folk" tag is most likely an attempt by the band to distance themselves from the far more dreary "alt folk" albatross they may have been lumbered with otherwise. And to be fair to the band, their songs do feel almost orchestral at times. Lush strings sweep in around moments of quieter acoustic introspection, perhaps most notably on "Field Report," which quickly builds from its understated, stripped-down introduction into a lush landscape of sound. But to characterize their music is merely "folk plus classical" is to ignore other, equally compelling parts of a much more complex equation. These include the idiosyncratic vocal flourishes of lead singer Ritchie Young, the band's gloriously ramshackle rhythm section, and even the surpising inclusion of a singing saw on at least two songs on this EP.

Perhaps "circus folk" would be a more appropriate description. The songs certainly tumble and swoop, while Young's voice acts as ring leader for the multitalented cast of performers he has gathered around him (their numbers vary, but the band is currently performing as a seven-piece). Together they conjur up a joyful sense of youthful innocence and wide-eyed magic, one that suggests endless possibilities, unconstrained by such earthly concerns as dull conformity or cynical calculation.

The lyrics reflect this too, with colorful imagery occasionally evolving into strange stories and streaks of playful surrealism. "I never learned to spin plates on sticks," Young intones at the start of "Bird and a Bear," before proceeding to demonstrate his masterful ability to juggle words and phrases instead. Unexpected, certainly. But it's amazing what surprises can lie in wait when we put aside our prejudices.

Loch Lomond's 'Trumpets for Paper Children' is available as a free download from Hush Records. They play San Francisco's Rickshaw Stop as part of Noise Pop on February 28, 2009.

By Keith Laidlaw. Read this article in its original setting here.