So, despite the name Loch Lomond aren’t from Scotland nor are they even from Canada; Loch Lomond is in fact a band from Portland, Oregon started as a small project by Ritchie Young back in 2003 and since then has morphed into a multi-member chamber pop band that currently has around six members on board for new album Little Me Will Start A Storm, out on Chemikal Underground, a record label that is actually relatively close to your actual body of water Loch Lomond. If the thought of The Decemberists hanging out with Sufjan and Jonathan Donahue appeals to your sensibilities, then this album saves you forever pining for such a supergroup.
Little Me Will Start A Storm belies its compact running time by packing in a heck of a lot of instruments, choir backing and a general feeling of “epic” that’s matched with intimacy to create a beguiling album. When a band ends up with more than, say, five members and occasionally indulges in rousing choruses and instrument bingo, the usual default comparison is to mention Arcade Fire a lot and mumble something about being ambitious and emotional. Well, rather than going down that route, Loch Lomond go about their business quietly, and over the course of 40 minutes build something marvellously affecting, yet unassuming.
It’s something of a curveball, then, to start with ‘Blue Lead Fences’, whose plucked then portentous strings backed with Young’s slightly nasal Colin Meloy-ish delivery suggests there’s plenty of brooding to be done as first powerful female harmonies, then a spiralling outtro threaten to take us somewhere unsettling. It is a touch misleading though as the following ‘Elephants & Little Girls’ finds Young in gentler mode, with a light falsetto accompanied by woodwind and sprightly strings, and some curiously opaque lyrics: “we’ll ride on the neck of a girl / you hold her hand, I’ll hold her hair back….watch the skin around her eyes / look at the skin around her eyes la la la la la.” It’s sung in such a hopeful manner though that you can’t help but sing along, turning it into a rather strange anthem. Young then sings, backed with his choir, “now she’s having fun, now she’s living life” and it seems to validate the hopefulness that’s come before.
The following tracks, the mournful ‘I Love Me’ and ‘Tic’ wouldn’t be out of place on Automatic for the People-era REM, both having an American Gothic “deep south” intensity and similarly impenetrable or inexplicable lyrics worthy of Michael Stipe. ‘Blood Bank’ then soars delightfully, showing off the wonderful strings and woodwind that pepper the record, and which are played to beautiful perfection. Then there’s also excellent mandolin and other six-string work, and Young’s ability to adapt his voice to suit the situation. On ‘Blood Bank’, he starts gently enough before matching the rise in the volume of the music by making his voice equally forceful, like when Shearwater’s Jonathan Meiburg switches from a whisper to a roar. And that kind of captures the spirit of Loch Lomond; they go about their business quietly, and it builds before you know it’s even happened. You know what? I like that approach much more than a bombastic, braggart attitude.
There are other fine moments before the album finished, such as the tremulous and fragile ‘The Earth Has Moved Again’, the Theremin whine of ‘Water in Astoria’ and perhaps the record’s high water mark, ‘Egg Song’. It’s possibly the tenderest song you’re likely to hear that compares friends to eggs. The song, about knowing who your real friends are, begins “Eggs are my friends, are my friends / all my friends look just like eggs, they look just like eggs.” Seemingly also concerned with controlling your ego, the payoff comes with Young and co harmonising “and all the monsters they ate / they ate all my friends, so I can’t relate…and I’ll find the time, the time to cry / when I remember their names.” It sounds as though Young many have found out too late who his friends are, and deeply regrets it.
Whilst Richie Young is the spearhead of Loch Lomond, Little Me Will Start A Storm is very much the work of a band playing off each other’s strengths and the product of time well spent together. Try as I might I can’t really find a bad word to say about this album; upon repeated plays you begin to hear instruments you never noticed before, layers you didn’t realise were there. Not quite a storm, but certainly a quiet triumph.