LostAlone - Shapes of Screams
“You’ll only find yourself if you let go…” (‘Crusaders’)
Most bands would struggle to cram as much invention, melody and euphoric arms-aloft bravado into a track like ‘Crusaders’, the explosive opening of this, the third album by Derby trio Lostalone. A flaming calling card, a statement of huge intent, it sets the tone for the rest of this exceptional record. A strummed vocal intro, a galloping tempo change, smooth de-clutch for the anthemic chorus, a battery of marching drums and (oh so predictable!) the main melody eventually playing the song out on what sounds like a child’s musical box. Need a second to catch your breath?
Seeing this album develop and emerge over the past year has been a rare thrill. Its wayward and deliciously oddball vision is once again the brainchild of LostAlone leader Steven Battelle, a man for whom music is something more than, pffft, mere lifeblood. You can’t help but warm to his infectious enthusiasm. He revels gleefully in his music, his band’s ongoing development, while retaining a proper old school sense of humility. He’s acutely aware of the level of expectation and responsibility placed upon him by his devout and largely youthful audience. But what has driven him to the point of distraction in recent months, as he’s shared with me in an ongoing series of fascinating conversations that have delved deep into his own particular artistic process and his near-obsessive love of music music music, is the desire to get his latest album out there. It’s been a long time coming (Shapes of Screams was recorded in early 2013) but that time is now. LostAlone’s time is now.
For those who’ve followed the story so far, panic not. Expect perfectly judged fine tuning, nothing more. 2012’s I’m a UFO In This City fused classic rock heritage to an alt. template, showing respect and disregard for the rulebook in equal measure. Battelle’s screaming, overdriven guitar, the mass of multi-tracked vocals, the uproarious sea of melody – all of this referenced previous generations of rockers. And yet the fiercely combative backing of bassist Marc Gibson and drummer Alan T Williamson (both characterful players, both excellent here) was more Nirvana than Queen. LostAlone, inspired by a frontman with the broadest set of influences, remain a fascinating paradox.
On Shapes of Screams, it’s Battelle’s professed love of pop that largely sets the tone. There’s ‘The Bells! The Bells!!’ with its monolithic chorus, that sledgehammer jolt from verse to hook and a prime scattering of words and images (“Everybody hopes for change but they don’t know what to change about themselves”) that, much in line with the thematic spread of the rest of the album, pitches a sharply observed ‘The world is fucked but, hey, if we all stop being such dicks to each other, we might just have a chance’ credo. Original? Uh, no! Delivered with devilish conviction and super-literate? Most definitely.
And so it continues. There’s the pure pop of ‘Sombre Party’ and ‘Guilty’, the synth beats of ‘Mental Health’. Look out for ‘Apathy’, built on a sinewy groove and featuring one of Battelle’s trademark intricate, lyrical solos (though knowing Battelle, he probably tossed it off while the band were on a fag break and then couldn’t be arsed trying a second take.) LostAlone’s riffology is as heady a brew as it ever was, their obsession with melody, on this evidence, edging toward psychopathic.
If it was the out there, exploratory moments that fired you up on their previous album, you may have to settle for snappier thrills this time around. Still, the tremendous ‘Doooooooooomageddon (Global Thermonuclear Metafictional Warfare), with its warrior chant (a hint of Iron Maiden’s ‘Stranger in a Strange Land’) is certifiably epic. The closing ‘Breathing in the Future Exhaling the Past’, a madcap coda that couples choral backing to Battelle’s spoken word narrative, is wonderful and ridiculous and playful and serious and the very best kind of pantomime - and a fitting endnote.
So, here we go again. Surely no-one is more bored with hearing how LostAlone should be nothing short of massive by now than LostAlone. To carry on repeating the obvious is beyond tedious, yet to ignore it seems negligent. But, be in no doubt - no-one operating in this arena right now, certainly out of the UK scene, can match them. This is music dangerously in love with music. Music that manages the rare feat of taking itself deadly seriously while simultaneously noting its own innate ridiculousness (a description the band are comfortable with. If only more acts were so self-effacing.) Music crafted with heart and brains, borne of a deep and abiding connection with its heritage and its audience. Music, such is its very inclusivity, for the masses. Their finest hour by some distance, Screams of Shapes is, for LostAlone, a new high. A fearless and absorbing work, it’s likely to be the finest rock album you’ll hear this year. “We’re staring into history,” Steven Battelle vows at one point. Here’s hoping.