Revamped group Lost in the Trees comes to Club Cafe

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Things were going pretty good for Ari Picker and his band, Lost in the Trees. Their album, “A Church That Fits Our Needs,” was praised by The Wall Street Journal as “the best album of 2012.” Esquire magazine called it “a luxuriantly orchestrated remembrance that ping-pongs between introspection and celebration.”

The New York Times hailed it as “a stirring blend of modest rusticity and urbane ambition,” and the Iowa Press-Citizen described it as an “exquisite exercise in the seduction of melancholy.”

So Mr. Picker made some changes.

Tonight, a newer, more streamlined version of Lost in the Trees comes to Club Cafe on the South Side to promote the band’s latest effort, “Past Life,” which was released last week.

Lost in the Trees is an indie-pop band formed by Mr. Picker in Chapel Hill, N.C., in 2007. As originally assembled, the band consisted of six members playing “orchestral folk” on everything from violin and cello to the accordion, french horn and tuba. Mr. Picker was out front, writing the songs, playing guitar, and singing.

He described his goal in a 2012 interview with Brian Howe of The Thread, a blog for performing arts at Duke University in North Carolina:

“I’ve tried to put it together in the past, using high school or volunteer orchestras, but it’s never really come together in a concrete way,” Mr. Picker said. “It’s always kind of been a dream of mine to travel around and play these songs with different symphonies.”

The recipe worked and the critics and the fans ate it up. But Mr. Picker was still hungry.

Change was in the wind, set in motion while the six-member band was performing.

But the evolution of Lost in the Trees was much more than just changing the band’s makeup. A new producer, Nicolas Vernhes, was brought in, looking to strip away much of the “orchestra” thing in favor of a leaner, more minimal electronic-rock sound that emphasized the beat, as well as Mr. Picker’s tenor voice.

They now perform in a four-member configuration. Mr. Picker on guitars and keyboards, Mark Daumen on bass and tuba, Emma Nadeau on piano, and Joah Tunnell on guitar.

The music also changed. Mr. Picker’s previous efforts, though widely acclaimed, had been driven by introspection, fueled by themes of personal loss. The new album was inspired more by “liberating happiness.”

“I wanted to reach out and grab the music rather than have it come from some internal place,” he said.

The result? Welcome to the 21st century. Lighten up. Let’s dance!

Well, not always. There’s still plenty of feeling in the lyrics and the music.

But what of the fans who were moved by those haunting, melancholy songs? The ones who fell in love with the lush classical version of Lost in the Trees?

Mr. Picker has said he trusts that they will come along on this part of the journey. And he is not alone. Sample this bit of a review by Samantha Rafalowski in Monday’s Cavalier Daily, the student newspaper serving the University of Virginia:

“The strength of Picker’s lyrics also hasn’t been lost in the band’s transition to this new sound,” she wrote. “Once again, the lyrics prove to be much more than just a musical accompaniment.

On the whole, ‘Past Life’ tells a story of heartache, love, pain and joy, without a fair deal of cliches. Old fans will not be disappointed and new fans are certain to be made with this release.”

Lost in the Trees is joined on this leg of its tour by All Tiny Creatures. Doors at Club Cafe, 56 S. 12th St., open at 7 p.m. for an 8 p.m. show. There is a $12 cover charge.

Dan Majors:

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