A haunting, ultimately uplifting examination on the transformational experience of loss, Ari Picker’s second album as Lost in the Trees follows the suicide of his mother. He composed A Church That Fits Our Needs, due on March 20 via Anti- Records, with a photograph of her above his desk — the same image that appears on the album cover — and, even without knowing her, there is this sense that she inhabits the proceedings.
But the North Carolina-based singer-songwriter, classically trained but working with a much broader musical palette, doesn’t simply mourn her, nor does he simply celebrate her. Instead, Picker explores a full range of emotions surrounding a person’s legacy, and the steps we all must take to inhabit their absence — all while galloping across a deeply ambitious musical landscape.
The lead single “Red,” off-kilter and yet somehow also anthematic, best exemplifies Picker’s sweeping emotional range — sounding at times like a crooked take on a Southern gothic ballad, at others like a sawing fever dream of strings, and at still others like a soaring cathedral of shimmering gospel. Elsewhere, you hear the raw honesty of Neil Young, the bracing intimacy of Bon Iver, the bristling classical-meets-pop resourcefulness of “Day in the Life”-era Beatles, and the rhythmic complexity of Radiohead.
“Garden” might be described as a Bono sort of ballad, only somehow even more spiritualized. “Golden Eyelids,” I suppose, sounds something like Andrew Bird meets the Cocteau Twins. But so bold are the conceptions here, and so powerfully healing is its embrace, you quickly come to realize that there’s really nothing quite like A Church That Fits Our Needs.
As with Lost In The Trees’ well-regarded 2010 debut All Alone In An Empty House, Picker relies on a smartly constructed group of collaborators to help animate his layered, endlessly fascinating creations — not least of whom is vocalist Emma Nadeau, so often an ardent counterpoint throughout. Picker also brought in Rob Schnapf (Elliott Smith, Beck) to help with mixing, and his expert touch with what could have been a chaotic collage of sounds is a big part of what gives the album its narrative heft.