Lake joins the seemingly disproportionate number of earnest, sensitive singer-songwriters cultivated by the cool climate of the Pacific Northwest. Incidentally, every other member of that group that initially comes to mind shares Lake’s label, K Records, and Oh, The Places We’ll Go, Lake’s debut on that label, feels aesthetically similar to a lot of that label’s other releases.
That similarity has a lot to do with Lake’s affinity for very sincere unfinished, professional singing and spare instrumentation that shines through on Places. The big distinction between the members of Lake and any of their contemporaries is the decidedly somber tone that this album takes. It wouldn’t be so interesting were it not for Lake’s coupling of decidedly upbeat instrumentation with lyrics that are often very glum in tone.
The album’s titular track starts off the work, and it lays a foundation for the emotional uncertainty that the band seems eager to explore on much of the album. The band has taken Dr. Seuss’ declaration, and though they haven’t really drained it of enthusiasm, they have infused some of their own apprehension, when they follow with, "Oh we don’t actually know."
A lot of different themes follow that: "Dead Beat," a sort of playful song about a deadbeat sister; "Bad Dream," a reassuring, lilting track that includes lyrics about not being alone; and "On the Swing," a surreal, late-night bedroom offering. Interestingly, though, the band chooses to bookend the album with an "Oh, the Places We’ll Go" reprise, as if to underline the importance of uncertainty to the album’s general mood and feeling.
That contrast that Lake manages to create between the relaxed, lighthearted feel of the music and the mature, serious, tenor of the album’s themes is the main thing that Places has working for it. Instead of sinking into melodrama, it allows us to stay above the fray and watch the conflict play out in the half-hour that the band gives it. It engenders a really nice empathy that allows us to think about the band’s musings. I can’t help but feel that this is the same kind of spirit that allowed Lake to make this record.