Lanterna Sands

[Badman; 2002]

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

Lanterna is the solo project of Henry Frayne, the Champaign, Illinois guitarist who previously played with the pseudo-goth/shoegazer bands Area and The Moon Seven Times. It is important to note that each of Lanterna's three records is almost completely instrumental. Listeners who need vocals in their music are bound to be sorely disappointed, unless they are willing to accept this record at face value. I've read reviews of Lanterna's albums which described them alternately as "background music" or "sonic wallpaper." I think this is unfair to Frayne, as his work, although instrumental, is highly evocative of mood and extremely effective at conveying emotion, not to mention the fact that it is actually quite beautiful.

Sands is both more focused and eclectic than Frayne's previous two albums, the self-titled 1998 debut, and Elm Street, his second. Lanterna's records have always been extremely expansive, conjuring up images of lonely highways leading off into nowhere, storm clouds brewing in the distance, and autumnal landscapes swirling with wind-blown leaves. Sands, however, has a much more intimate and organic sound. It is a warmer and more acoustic album than his first two, although Frayne utilizes drum machines and some ambient keyboard atmospherics on a few of the tracks. In the context of this album, however, they work.

The album begins with "West Side Highway," which shows Lanterna exploring a slightly different sound than on the previous two records. The track features an 80s-style drum machine and prominent acoustic guitar, while Frayne's trademark deeply reverbed guitar remains buried in the background. The song is a light, melodic, playful tune. The second track, "Sands," is a much more ambient and epic affair. This ten-minute piece consists of mostly haunting keyboards and twangy guitar picking, until a Mission (UK)-esque interlude unexpectedly appears toward the end of the track, again harkening back to the 80s. "Windward," in contrast, is an almost completely acoustic song. It features some Southwestern-sounding percussion, calling to mind Friends of Dean Martinez or Calexico. "Lonely" is another track with vaguely Southwestern overtones, conveying a sense of high desert loneliness and melancholy.

Two more tracks on Sands, "Atlantic" and "Grey," are pure mood pieces. Both of these tracks vary between seven and twelve minutes in length, and also feature drum machines which might not have been out of place on an Enigma record. These two pieces, again, are highly evocative, and almost tend to lull the listener into a trance with their beauty and repetition. 

Contrary to the idea of its being "sonic wallpaper," I find that Lanterna's music can both mesmerize and engage the listener. It's beautiful and melodic, without being boring; minor-key without being dark; atmospheric and retrospective without sounding dated. I would recommend this album for a spring afternoon during a rainstorm, or a drive across the cornfield-studded highways of Nebraska.

1. West Side Highway
2. Sands
3. Windward
4. Fields
5. Greek Island
6. 1975
7. Atlantic
8. Early August
9. Lonely
10. Grey