Lewis & Clarke blew up their pastoral folk sound into long, torn-open and moody soundscapes on 2007’s Blasts of Holy Birth, and they have taken that brooding tangled beauty down even darker roads on their new EP, Light Time. The first half of the disc gives us “Petrified Forest” and “Light Time,” two songs that mesh together into one wandering but self-assured movement. “Petrified Forest” is seven minutes of searching through the decay of a crumbling city where everything seems abandoned. Children don’t know their parents. The river flows by empty buildings. Even roads don’t come together. “These streets,” Lou Rogai sings often, “they don’t intersect.”
Rogai’s guitar and low whisper float alone until strings lilt into the background, drums plink and thump barely. But as the song trudges through the city, an insistence starts to fill out Rogai’s voice, the drums start to build a cadence, the strings make a bed for it all to lie on. And once the song finally wanders into that forest, there’s a bit of hope to be found. The words come easier for Rogai, and he ends by singing, “In the petrified forest, where your heart’s frozen still, you will bring it to life.” It’s a perfect entry point for “Light Time,” where the overcast pall of the first track subtly and slowly expands into something brighter and hazier. There is still a low murkiness lurking like fog, but the cymbal work shimmers over the fragile track, burning some of that off until Rogai’s searching on these two tracks yields some unnamed thing, some tentative hope.
Those first two tracks are so big and stunning that “Dead and Gone” feels like an afterthought. The song was originally on Bare Bones and Branches, and here they rework it nicely, if simply, by wrapping it in affectionate warmth with a Rhodes piano. The limited 12-inch version of Light Time also includes a cover of Leonard Cohen’s “Hotel Chelsea #2,” and the distant boozy swirl of the players behind Rogai honors the worn reverie of the original. Though its first two songs render the other tracks a little slight in comparison, as a whole Light Time shows once again that Lewis & Clarke’s quiet sound is an affecting one, and is all the better when it shows its holes and takes up some space.