So many albums, so little time! That’s what some folks might say when confronted with Lost Trail‘s extensive discography. Fortunately, the duo (Zachary and Denny Wilkerson Corsa) has just released a primer that acts like a “Greatest Hits” of the last three years. Not that these songs have ruled the Top 40, but that they serve as highlights of a growing oeuvre.
As a person who owns a few of Lost Trail’s albums, I can attest to the fact that 1) there are enough exclusives here to warrant the purchase, the neatest of which is a bonus track that is different for each person who orders the disc and will not be available anywhere else. Mine is called “Bones on Black Spruce Mountain”, and when I Googled it to double-check, the only thing that came up was a 1978 young readers’ novel by David Budbill, likely the inspiration for the track. This endearingly warped selection makes a fine closer for MY COPY of the album, but it won’t be yours ~ you’ll get something equally intriguing. Also included in the collection are b-sides, compilation entries and a new work, “How Walls Became Mountains”, only available in the digital version. (Those who purchase the physical edition will receive both.)
Over the past few years, the music of Lost Trail has evolved into a spectral entity that bears some resemblance to the early works of The Caretaker ~ no surprise to those who read Zachary’s recent feature here on Leyland Kirby’s work. The unique aspect of the duo’s output is a cache of “used cassettes, VHS, and many random machines” that the couple has rescued from a local junk store, including 100 Edward Cayce tapes. This ever-replenished supply of odds and ends sends tendrils into their music. The album’s most memorable piece, “Out Here the Maps Go White and Pale”, from October Mountain, includes a frightening sample from Red Asphalt, an extremely graphic driver’s ed video. It doesn’t make one want to drive safely ~ it makes one want to not drive.
“Out Here” sounds completely fresh in its revised context. Previous Lost Trail outings have been of mixed quality; but everything on Pages from the Alamance Hymnal works. This isn’t unique to Lost Trail; the best example is the Beach Boys, who were only good for singles. Lost Trail’s percentage of quality is high above that. But by removing the lesser tracks (and there’s no way to include all the good ones), the set as a whole is strengthened. The compilation does exactly what the couple likely hoped it would do: it sends one scurrying to investigate the back catalog. For those who want the back-back catalog, there’s also Covered Mirrors, which covers the first phase of the duo’s career.
Another advantage of Pages is that it brings the music to the fore. As good as the Corsas’ samples may be, they often threaten to overwhelm the fact that the pair makes some damn fine music. Take for example “From the Sky to the Center”, which presents a long wash of thick drone, attached to a shy ambient spine. As the drone retreats, it leaves behind a crackling residue like the dying ions of decaying tapes. Or “Distant Sprawl Halogens and Snow on Car Windshields”, whose title sounds like a Headphone Commute article and whose sound imitates its images. The subject matter leads one to muse on the possibility of other Lost Trail collections based on the duo’s recurring themes: winter, religion, car accidents, death, ghosts. Sometimes the subjects converge: “Dark Ice Meridian” seems to cover four out of five! “Void and Waste (Gated Communities and Ghost Boxes)” is another high mark, a drone piece with a surprisingly upbeat tone, thanks to a series of pinging notes that appear and disappear like nest-building robins. Could this be the sign of yet another new direction for Lost Trail? If so, it’s a show of strength; Lost Trail has stayed relevant by refusing to stay too long in the same sonic space. (Richard Allen)