Lanterna Desert Ocean

[Jemez Mountain; 2005]

Rating: 4/5

Styles: Champaign, Illinois’ Henry Frayne has the distinction of being able to boast one of the most unique guitar sounds (and guitar styles, for that matter) in the world of indie rock. In the gothic-flavo
Others: Bill Frisell, Cowboy Junkies, Ry Cooder, Michael Brook

Champaign, Illinois' Henry Frayne has the distinction of being able to boast one of the most unique guitar sounds (and guitar styles, for that matter) in the world of indie rock. In the gothic-flavored dream pop band Area, as well as its logical successor, the indie/shoegaze band The Moon Seven Times, Frayne developed a distinctive lush, chiming guitar sound, played in a spare, arpeggiated style. Frayne's current and long-running solo project Lanterna is both a refinement and extension of his guitar work with the aforementioned groups. Though Lanterna is an almost exclusively instrumental affair, one would be hard-pressed not to consider Frayne a songwriter, in the classical sense. What Frayne's pieces lack in terms of lyrics they more than make up for in style, structure, and compositional prowess. Desert Ocean is Lanterna's fifth long-player, issued on Badman's new instrumental imprint, Jemez Mountain. Although a six-year gap exists between the 1995 Rykodisc release of Lanterna's self-titled debut and the artist's sophomore release, Elm Street, since that time Henry Frayne has been fairly prolific, issuing a new release almost every year.

At the risk of denigrating Frayne's work, it can cautiously be said that Lanterna's first two albums had ethereal, ambient qualities that likened many of the tracks to the new age genre. An appropriate analogy might be Steve Roach's 1998 Projekt release Dust to Dust. While Roach's record (which was curiously released on a label specializing in contemporary gothic rock) could be classified as new age, it might be more appropriately considered "ambient Western." Similarly, Much of Lanterna's output is in the vein of "ambient Americana." Guitar-based and patently organic in nature, Frayne's music conjures images of the plains, rolling hills, forests, and mountains of the remaining American wilderness. On Desert Ocean, however, Frayne has clearly opted to take a more solidly rock-based approach.

Desert Ocean begins with "Luminous," a track that seems to reference early-'80s new wave with its driving 4/4 beat, chugging, palm-muted chords, and ringing, The Cure-like guitar notes that hang suspended in space. The track gradually changes shape and then back again, evolving into something undeniably complex. It effectively sets the tone for the rest of the album. Two other tracks, the subdued "Fog" and "Riverside," recall the low-key ambience of Lanterna's earlier work while simultaneously showcasing the obvious evolution of Fraynes' technical expertise as a musician. The album occasionally ventures into straightforward rock territory, as on "Surf" and "Cross Country," pieces that resonate with an adult alternative sensibility a la Cowboy Junkies or Chris Isaak. Frayne nonetheless manages to marry his signature sound to these tracks so that they retain Lanterna's trademark stylistic nuances.

The record closes with the stunningly gorgeous "Messina." On this delicate, minor-key track, Frayne effortlessly lays down some deeply passionate, post-Floydian blues licks that rival some of the best work of David Gilmour. A one-time listen to this cut simply does not do it justice. There is a depth and complexity to the arrangement of the piece (and a few others on Desert Ocean as well) that reveals Henry Frayne as a first-rate composer with an ear for the sublime. Desert Ocean is an album that has much to offer the listener, however casual, and upon repeated spins, continues to deliver the goods. An essential release for guitar aficionados of all stripes.

1. Luminous
2. Venture
3. Summer Break
4. Fog
5. 48th & 8th
6. Surf
7. Riverside
8. Cross Country
9. Hope
10. Messina

Most Read