The use of the term “Alternative” to describe a genre of music is pretty much obsolete these days. Ever since the early 90s, people in the industry have had to come up with other ways to categorize any music that wasn’t basically Classic Rock, Hard Rock, or R&B/Rap. It didn’t take anyone long to realize that Dave Matthews Band and Nirvana don’t belong in the same category when it comes to similar musical characteristics. Where as “Alternative” or “Indie-Rock” have somewhat come to be defined by distorted guitars and angst-ridden lyrics, “Twee-pop” is a genre of independently produced pop music with aspects that include melodic instrumentation, airy vocal harmonies, and light-hearted lyrics. Influences can involve 60’s psychedelic pop and DIY Punk, to even a little bit of disco soul for a dance element. Commentators have described the movement as a “revolt into childhood“, while artists and fans often believe that the “spirit of Punk Rock lives on” in their DIY approach to recording and marketing of bands. Its origins occurred when UK publication, New Musical Express, released a cassette compilation in 1986 named C86 featuring a wide range of indie-pop bands. In the US, K Records has been the most influential label in the genre, producing acts like Beat Happening, Tiger Trap, and most recently, K’s “twee-pop“answer to Fleetwood Mac, LAKE.
LAKE began as a trio during a birthday party in Olympia, WA back in 2006. Eli Moore, for whom the party was in honor, and Ashley Eriksson are the main songwriters in the project and Lindsay Schieff has been laying down the beat since that first gig. LAKE was so dubbed when Kenny, whom is no longer amongst the ranks, joined the band and recorded on their first album (Lindsey Ashley Kenny Eli). That self titled debut was a DIY effort and tape only release, recorded with Indie artist/producer and future K label-mate Karl Blau. Their second album, cassette, was intended to be recorded with Grammy-nominated producer/musician Tucker Martine in Seattle, but the sessions were postponed due to his move to Portland, resulting in the band’s decision to home-record and self-release the project. The work with Martine is currently being released, one or two songs at a time, as 7″ singles. These first DIY recordings endeavor to capture the liveliness of “first takes” and also include several guest artists, a practice LAKE has consistently used on all of their albums. Several additional factors worked to prolong the completion of the band’s project with Martine, one of which was their touring with K artist, Adrian Orange, while both operating as her backing band, as well as opening for her with their own set. This, yet again, resulted in a choice to home-record their next album, Oh, the Places We’ll Go, the title being a nod to Dr. Seuss. LAKE’s unique and dreamy approach to indie-pop caught the attention of K Records, who released the album in 2008 . The Olympia label has remained their home ever since, releasing their follow up Let’s Build A Roof (2009) and their latest effort, Giving & Receiving just last month.
I was first turned onto LAKE this year while interning at K Records for Winter quarter. The internship was focused on public relations and Giving & Receiving was getting ready to be released so, I decided to take home a promo copy and give it a listen. LAKE’s velvety take on ‘twee-pop’ steps away from the traditional sound of pioneering bands like Beat Happening and jumps into the deep waters of heady psychedelic-pop suitable for headphones, joints, and plenty of repeated listening. Their use of stirring harmonies, ala Brain Wilson, coupled with melodic guitar and organ tones, immediately made an impression on me. Eriksson’s vocal styling is somewhat reminiscent of Stevie Nicks, but with a more airy Lætitia Sadier (Stereolab) quality, while the musical arrangements are layered so hypnotically that it’s easy to get lost in their aural universe. I wanted to hear more, so I took home the band’s previous K releases and was not disappointed.
Throughout the span of their catalog, LAKE’s particular brand of music has remained consistent in style, but what seems to continually improve is their ability to get the most out of being in the studio. In the spirit of DIY recording, LAKE has always been involved in the production side of the album creation process. Except for the track, “On The Swing“, which was recorded at K’s own Dub Narcotic Studio, Oh, the Places We’ll Go was self-recorded between Olympia and Portland, and delivered a definite do-it-yourself feel in its sound. Let’s Build A Roof allowed LAKE to take full advantage of Dub Narcotic, as well as to work with Karl Blau again. Being able to focus on recording and producing in a professional studio seemed to give them a chance to spread their wings and sharpen some skills in the production process. Now, thanks to the fickle finger of fate, LAKE was forced to unexpectedly adapt this process even further on this latest K effort. According to the liner notes from Giving and Receiving, the reels of 2-inch tape that the band had been recording on began to shred during the sessions and, “instead of enduring a potentially weeks-long delay…the band decided to…transfer the project to computer“. Moore, who also played the part of session engineer -along with Blau and K founder, Calvin Johnson– became a “quick study” of digital mixing with seamless results for a final product that became part analog/part digital, due to the unforeseen circumstances.
Beyond the increasing level of production quality, the subject matter explored on Giving and Receiving aids in setting it apart from LAKE‘s previous work. According to their press release, “the Gulf oil spill was bumming everyone out [during “Giving & Receiving’s inception], and this did a great deal to seep into the songs themselves“. As the band continues to distance themselves from the usual “twee-pop” formula on this latest effort, such factors do a great deal to separate LAKE from their predecessors‘ more “kid-like” vibes and perspectives on songwriting. Eriksson and Moore have evolved in their songwriting, with tracks like “Pilgrim’s Day” and “Efforts” being more reflective and shedding the innocence usually associated with the genre; not to mention their own earlier recordings. The title track, “Giving & Receiving”, is an insightful and sleepy song about Karma and our impact on others, while “Mother Nature’s Promise” is a rousingly hopeful reminder about us humans’ responsibility to our own planet.
The detail in the musical texture, combined with soft, enchanting harmonies and subtle dance beats, make for a listening experience that is never boring. On tracks like “Roger Miller” and “Stumble Around”, LAKE sounds like a mix between Stereolab and Steely Dan, especially with the added element of a sweet horn section. “The Stars” is a bouncing little ditty reminiscent of The Mama’s and the Papas, featuring lyrics about how those heavenly bodies would never deny a friend request, and, standout track, “Within/Without” will immediately stick in your head with its shambling pop-beat, plush Beach Boys harmonies, and ambiguous but catchy lyrics. Despite some of the band’s set-backs and the global mood at the time of it’s creation, the album, somehow, manages to remain undeniably uplifting.
Giving & Receiving is another solid entry in LAKE’s consistently improving songwriting and recording resume. This album “makes a statement about manifesting our future“, says the group, “realizing what we as people are given every day, and figuring out how to pay back for it whenever possible“. Like their previous releases, it contains many guest players, including The Olympia Free Choir, singer/songwriter R. Stevie Moore, and Karl Blau. The band creates colorful landscapes with detailed textures that draw the listener in with soft and enchanting harmonies. An understated dance beat woven together with rhythmic keyboards and classic-toned guitar gives the recording an almost timeless feel. The songs have flavors of contemporary pop music, as well as celebrated material from the classic and psychedelic rock eras, providing it with all of the elements of albums that have long remained a proven influence on our culture. The method in which they blend all of the artists that have inspired them into their own unique take on twee-pop, expands the envelope, but still manages to keep the ideals essential to the genre. With Giving & Receiving, LAKE has crafted a welcomed offering for your treasured vinyl collection; one which could fit right at home between more recent classics like Stereolab‘s Sound-Dust and such long-standing staples as Dark Side of the Moon.
LAKE is currently on tour and you can catch them at one of the following dates
OR stay updated via their K artist page.
May 13, 2011 – VANCOUVER, BC
Biltmore Cabaret – W/ Ages and Ages
May 14, 2011 – Olympia, Washington
Northern – W/ Ages and Ages
May 15, 2011 – Seattle, Washington
Tractor Tavern – W/ Ages and Ages
May 28, 2011 – Seattle, Washington
Seattle Center – Northwest Folklife Festival
ALSO, check out Higher Than Merry, one of the Martine tracks available as a 7″