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Lanterna - Sands

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Artist: Lanterna

Album: Sands

Label: Badman

Review date: Nov. 4, 2002

Atmospheres for the Busy Listener

Lanterna's Sands is full of lush atmospheres and painstaking soundscapes, but the songs here may have trouble retaining your attention. Sands is by no means a boring album, but by virtue of its unchanging tranquility, it is necessarily possessed of a certain monotony.

In the beginning, things look good. The first song, "West Side Highway," sets the tone with five minutes of slow-building, but energetically-paced pop, probably the most upbeat moment on the album. A dense wall of shimmering acoustic guitars underscored by a steady, near-danceable beat fades in and out over increasingly interesting background noises. Next, the uncompromisingly desolate title track whispers in, spending an exploratory five and a half minutes layering heavily fuzzed notes over warm echoes before adding drums and returning to the mellow guitar theme of the first track. Yet, “West Side” and “Sands” don’t lay a groundwork for the rest of the album as much as they map it out with precise directions. From the likewise lonely "Windward" on, each song begins to resemble one of the two archetypes. Though there is often some variation, enough to make songs like "Atlantic" and "1975" interesting, it seems ultimately that Lanterna are drawing an hour of material from two themes that could fill about 10 minutes.

Rather, what they seem best at is creating a vivid mood. Despite Lanterna's reputation as architects of unsettling instrumentals, very little herein is actually haunting or sinister. Sands instead conveys an expansive loneliness, best highlighted on songs like the title track or its shorter companion "Early August." The sparse guitars never rise above the sweeping washes of echo to create much melody, and aside from the final "Grey" (which even manages to sound like "Atlantic"), the drums don't make their presence felt either. What's left is something of a soundtrack: thematic and spare; a little too dry by itself, but the ideal complement once you provide your own storyline.

Of course there are elements and sounds to explore and discover with each play, ones which could reveal some distinction between songs, but just listening without giving too much thought to the matter might yield even better results. At the risk of relegating it to the status of background music, the fact is that a distracted listen to Sands has the same mellowing effect as an attentive one, but none of the frustration that comes with its similarity from track to track.

So appreciating it becomes a question of context and expectation. This is not a headphones album or a party album. It's not even a chill-out album, soothing though it is. Sands is much better suited to winding down the day or pacifying the crushing ennui of modern existence than to endure examination. Sands comes down to an instrumental album that doesn't flaunt instrumental proficiency or overwhelming creativity, but succeeds admirably in creating a consistent and universal feeling. The key, like in parenting, is not to overthink it.

By Daniel Levin Becker

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