Watching Lazarus (aka Trevor Montgomery) open for Explosions in the Sky at the Garage recently was rather like watching the grim reaper – albeit in a hoodie – perform his favourite party songs. The set was heavy, almost oppressive, with solemnity and sorrow. Much of the audience fled to the bar at the back. Those who remained watched a compelling and startling performance – a man and his guitar and his infinite sadness.
On first listen, much of Like Trees… is reminiscent of Elliott Smith – from the spartan arrangements and restrained sound palette, to the almost suffocating weight of misery and loss threaded into the songs themselves. On second listen, the subtle arrangements jump out at the listener, recalling at times the work of Sufjan Stevens (without Stevens’ happy-go-lucky feel) or Xiu Xiu’s Jamie Stewart, particularly on the disturbing album closer ‘Yes. Roam.’. Rather like Sleater-Kinney’s recent album The Woods, Like Trees… is a frantic howl at modern America, full of doubt and dislocation. The album’s centrepiece is, unquestionably, ‘This American Dream’ – a tale of blood, oil, depression and credit card binges at suburban malls. The commentary is isolated and insular, rather like someone yelling at the outside world from behind their bedroom window, their breath fogging up the glass. In places, Montgomery gives up entirely, “I’m starting to forget/The reason I cared in the first place,” he yelps on the otherwise (incongruously) upbeat ‘Singing to the Thieves’.
As gloomy as the San Francisco Bay in January, there is a cathartic feel to Like Trees… – in a kind of wandering around in the rain, fists clenched tight, sobs stuck in your throat sort of way. Sometimes we all have moments like this.