Album Review: A Church That Fits Our Needs

★★★★☆

North Carolina musical collective Lost in the Trees released its new album A Church That Fits Our Needs on March 20.

Grief can be an incredible motivator for creation. When a life is lost, those affected will spring for understanding, meaning. Often, it’s found in art.

And so it is for Lost in the Trees. After his mother committed suicide in 2009, frontman Ari Picker began to write. A Church That Fits Our Needs provides the listener with a portrait of his mother’s life, as well as her life after death.

Most of all, however, Picker refuses to mourn her on this record. “Don’t you ever dare think she was weak-hearted,” he murmurs over a backbeat of ghostly voices in “Icy River.” It’s a celebration, if a tempered one.

That restrained feel extends to the music, which refuses to be grandiose, even at its most orchestral moments. Picker applies his studies in film scoring at the Berklee College of Music, as he fleshes out his falsetto and acoustic guitar with strings, horns, piano and syncopated percussion.

This orchestration, however, doesn’t follow the indie rock trend of big melodies and big payoffs. Rather, the strings feel gauzy – like light smeared across a lens, indistinct and distant. They really resemble Radiohead’s minimalist compositions, specifically “How to Disappear Completely,” in their strict refusal to be melodic or hummable.

That’s not to say that they refuse to be beautiful. Picker previously toured with country songstress Neko Case and it makes sense that her loping melodies have rubbed off on him. Most impressively, Picker folds them all into something entirely his own.

For all the orchestral-tinged folk records I’ve listened to, I’ve never heard one quite like A Church, with its alternating bouts of sparseness and grandeur. “This Dead Bird is Beautiful” best demonstrates this bipolar nature. Beginning with strummed guitar, it grows and grows to a climax of operatic proportions, strained horns mixing with immaterial female vocals. Yet it still holds back. In true minimalist fashion, every piece serves the puzzle.

In a recent interview Picker said, “I feel like if God had some sort of way of speaking, it would be through music.” Here, he is truly speaking God’s language. Make sure to listen.