Transcendence in the Face of Loss

Lost in the Trees – A Church That Fits Our Needs

How do we remember a loved one? Do we celebrate their life, remembering the laughter and joy they brought into the world, or do we mourn their passing, questioning the why of their departure? Unfortunately, these are questions, in my estimation, without answers, or at least the sort of finality of answers we so often desire. The art of mourning and remembering is an even more complicated thing. Taking the deeply personal and sharing this with others is both amazingly brave and dangerous, but oftentimes produces some breathtaking and emotionally transformative works, e.g. Roland Barthes’ Camera Lucidaa or the Arcade Fire’s Funeral.

Enter into this realm of beautiful explorations of loss, Lost in the Trees recent release A Church That Fits Our Needs, a record (from the press I’ve read) largely inspired, influenced, and dedicated to the memory of Ari Picker’s (the band’s main songwriter) mother who passed between the writing of this record and the band’s previous record. A Church… is a gorgeously constructed and delicate work of love that navigates deftly between mourning and transcendence. Musically this record is a lush deluge of layered sylvan sounds, a baroque-folk orchestra replete with a full array of horns (tubas and bassoons!) and strings (cellos, violins, violas, and harps!). The lead singer/songwriter vocals are reminiscent of the choir-boy falsettos of Thom Yorke (Radiohead) and Justin Vernon (Bon Iver) and his female counterparts juxtapose this with high, aria-like flourishes. (And like any good folk record, there are ample field recordings between tracks.) Listening to this record makes me feel as though I’ve chanced upon a secret Appalachian forest commune of musicians playing an ancient, timeless set of songs. In my estimation, this is a must listen, but it does require patience and repeated listens to feel the full journey this record will take you on. So please do yourself a favor and listen to the entire record here.

Sorrow Found Me When I Was Young: Henry James on Sorrow

Not to dwell on the subject of loss, but as I was chatting via the internet with a friend on the subjects of religion and faith b , she sent me a link to a letter written by Henry James to a friend who was dealing with the question of how to proceed in the wake of loss. Everyone should read the full letter here c; however, I found these lines particularly moving and inspiring (and I hope you will too):

“We all live together, and those of us who love and know, live so most. We help each other—even unconsciously, each in our own effort, we lighten the effort of others, we contribute to the sum of success, make it possible for others to live. Sorrow comes in great waves—no one can know that better than you—but it rolls over us, and though it may almost smother us it leaves us on the spot and we know that if it is strong we are stronger, inasmuch as it passes and we remain.” – Henry James

One more Cup of Coffee Before I Go: Of Monsters and Men’s My Head is An Animal

After dropping all this heavy on you, I would like to offer a musical palette cleanser in the form of the explosively phenomenal record by Iceland’s Of Monsters and Men. Although the record has yet to be released in the U.S., you can stream it at NPR’s First Listen here. And, while I anticipate having a lot more to say about this record in the weeks to come, this record streams only for another week and I wanted y’all to have the opportunity to hear what I anticipate will be a very popular record in the upcoming months now. (I think the NPR reference to Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros is spot on but I’d also add the Head and the Heart and Florence and the Machine into the mix. If you like Edward’s “Home” and Florence’s “Shake it Up”, you will really dig this record.)

P.S. if you have no plans tonight and live in Chicago, you can catch them at Park West. And if you live elsewhere go see them, more information here.

Have a great weekend everyone and keep your eyes peeled for my 2012 first quarter installment of essential albums and tracks of the current year!


a Barthes’ Camera Lucida is a heartbreaking memoir written by the literary critic about the passing of the writer’s mother and his own personal struggle of remembering her and his own confrontation with his own mortality. This is a beautiful and deeply moving read and whatever your preconceptions about literary critics might be, you will be amazed by the searing humanity of his reflections.

b Doesn’t everyone engage in deep philosophical discussion via GChat? Perhaps not. Then again, I am after all as one college professor remarked “A very, serious young man.” I was so much older then, I’m younger than that now.

c Special thanks to RSW for sending this along.

3 thoughts on “Transcendence in the Face of Loss

  1. a.a., thanks for the shout out and for turning me on to this album… I’m having a hard time moving away from “Red” on repeat…

  2. Pingback: Lo-Fi Epic R&B: How to Dress Well’s Total Loss « left off the tracks.

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