Lakes Review: Ritual and repetition, progress and attachment

On my daily walk, and exploring the neighbourhood—familiar spaces—there are areas and pathways I know quite well. I do things out of habit and ritual to let my mind wander elsewhere. I take the same route, or a slight variation of it, because it delivers rumination; a result that satisfies. On this route, I am able to other things that are perhaps less secure, new, changing, or that I otherwise hadn’t noticed. The neighbour is pregnant. The jasmine has died. Pathways or opportunities for turns more or less stay the same, but sometimes they open or close over. Over time, I can predict my intuitions, and then interrogate them. The market is being developed into an apartment complex. Repetition and stability create a longing for both progress and attachment.

The music of Lakes is a post-punk construction of historic and ritualistic folk sounds. Lakes is a ritual project, and the latest release, Silver Thorns, is a product of this ritual. From its birth, Lakes combines acoustic, synthetic sounds, and has comprised live performances centring Sean Bailey, often including other musicians for a live band (as many as four others at a time now). Lakes has amplified its course from tapes made in 2005, many self-released LPs and EPs (as Inverted Crux), live documents through Altered States, international releases and singles produced with the help of other Australian labels such as No Patience Records.

With each reiteration of Lakes there is a repetition, with some variation to notice. These could be the same songs, but there is a reworking of the mechanisms each time. Beyond the ritual, as the pagan and natural is evoked in each variation of a Lakes’ document, it is true that this project takes a historic course. It quotes itself, repeats sessions, interrupts, and continues on mapping its path with what it learns.

Ritual. It is a foundation that I take for granted, that I can see the weaknesses of and realise to be of my own construction. I have faith in habits and rituals, that my walk will give me something. Through repeating it, I can appreciate what needs to be changed. Extend it, shorten it, depending on what’s going on in my life or the seasons, but it works while it’s necessary. It’s something I can enjoy alone or with another. A ritual that I take anywhere. I try not to let the seasons affect this one habit. Its comfortable, you adjust when you have to, but it has a sustaining purpose. It’s the same, its repeated, but it allows for process and change.

Through repetition and reproduction, Lakes is a successful technē of music in traditional respects. Repetitive action and technological reproduction in art enable foundational growth and the ability to evolve beyond structural bounds. A works’ unique qualities are elevated by the foundations that are imprinted with each successive rinse, glaze, reinforcement and embellishment. Previous releases of Carved Remains reinforced the Lakes’ technique and map. With this, there is no doubt that Silver Thorns is an emergence of light in what can be heard as an exciting release for their process, from ritual practice of music into the faith and opportunity of popular music.

The opening title track, ‘Silver Thorns‘, elevates and engages the voice of Ela Stiles in support of Sean; one to guide the other. The balance of synthetic elements in this record reaches out as light, and accords with the first track’s call to familiarity of a Lakes audience, who are waiting to be provoked. It is the most familiar tune on the EP, introduced by a pacing drum machine that breaks into chords and incantations.

Silver Thorns echoes the previous release Carved Remains, both in mood and melody. I am reminded from the first track—through repetition and interruptions—that the history of Lakes is never lost. Though instead of repeating the same song, this time a new path is made from the song’s comfortable shape. Lakes assembles both the ritual and technological parts of their history, allowing for revelations that sound as though they are both familiar and unusual. The more synthetic elements are richer in parts, reminding the listener that the project has always acknowledged its place in respect to Australia’s landscape and post-punk lineage. Yet, it resembles an old shape. The production works to numb: it relaxes the sensibilities before what next hits.

Through walking the same path, the pavement can be turned and marched into depth or destruction. As ordinary as it may seem to exhaust or crack under my feet, perhaps it’s also necessary, that allowing the earth to breathe from cement and tread, new paths, and growths can emerge from where they had been kerbed.

As a pagan rock song ‘Frost’ lyrically surrenders its tools of preparation for seasonal lessons. It’s a strengthening of arms that allow Sean’s sneering to beckon in the chorus, while Ela’s laments as shadow. There’s stride in the rhythm and power to fire and endure the wild. Its march is a beckoning catchy hook. The lashes of synthetic strings against the guitar hold resilient against the gothic charms of this record’s core. It’s again, the foretelling of landscape and lore that this music bares.

What’s different in this record from the others is the allowance for another voice that, in production, sounds as though she has always been there; as though gone unnoticed previously. With repetition and technique, there is an elevation of something new here–a 2016 cassette also released by Paradise Daily documents a lo-fi introduction to her voice’s necessity in Lakes’ language. Ela’s voice has been included in this record as an attentive part of the instrumentation.

A daily or regular practice engages a simple, semi-conscious ritual task that takes no explaining but develops new meaning with each sequential iteration of the habit. To take a daily walk may not always have meaning, but it can be given some, and be a form of process and understanding in its apparent repeated plot. You may place certain poles in the earth to set your course: you’re free to roam, and to consider, or to lose your way. A well-planned and repeated practice allows for meandering and getting lost in trust of familiarity. You find belonging this way, and you may realise that there is more to the practice than what you have defined.

The Lakes live band has become fully engrossed by Sean’s formula: a task not undertaken by any member lightly. The Silver Thorns 12” EP launched live with presence and circumstance, again compelling the generation of Lakes history as four-piece. It’s a strong act. When Sean is alone, Lakes’ strength is still these same songs: voice and guitar with a backing track. It is raw earth defined and raked for interpretation–—though to some this can be arid or concrete ground. The parallels between the wheel of life and the powers of love are continually drawn in his songs. Even those who aren’t fans of Lakes’ music could find the romance of Sean’s continuum to be delivered most compelling through the pop and relief that Silver Thorns offers.

Side B’s offering is spring and summer respectively. A mourner’s pop song, Flowers by the Graveside provides reflection of seasons and life lyrically, and here the vocal is led by Sean rather than the unison charge of the first side. The drum machine is the most significant instrument, creating an uplift in the continued momentum that this Lakes’ item projects: the warmth of spring comes with the hindsight of death and love. To provide after all is lost or forgotten are flowers by a graveside and the gift of Spring. Structurally the song gives a remarkably forthright approach. It forgives the listener to step into pop predictability, sing-song chorus, and smile with the heat of darkness to be consecrated. What is revealed in this offering is the support and acceptance of the familiar by a catchy hook in song.

To call attention to ritual practice is not to evoke an over-awareness that one loses the genuine ability to provide meaning in its engagement in it, but to bring further appreciation in its process. With each step on a daily walk, a ritual, is not always a realisation – but it is necessary.

Lakes’ Silver Thorns is an attentive meditation on the project’s development, which has undertaken a lot of shifts into the most recent incarnations of refinement and buffering. The closer, Blestian, ascribes itself to its own history. While highly developed, it is relaxed and unoppressive, unlike previous releases—at times too foreboding to prophesise for some, or too engaged in the land and isolation to connect with others. It could be both – and appealing, but this EP is neither and still it channels the same power. As a listener, the practice is heard as dedication, and enables innovation from a trustworthy sound.

The Lakes catalogue can be interpreted via its shifts through familiar landmarks, and the changing debris, instrumentation, production, and blooms that happen in its practice. While using the similar language and apparatus of repetition Silver Thorns, out through Paradise Daily, is not only another Lakes record. It is an interruption and reflection on the practice to become self-sustaining—and that perhaps even this cannot be done alone. Silver Thorns is an opening formed through repetition, that reflects a path which has been there all along.

Silver Thorns 12″ EP
Release by Paradise Daily in October 2017

Lena Molnar is a musician and PhD student at RMIT. She has been locally published by Tempered, and Distort and Scum magazine. Lena is a member of the Consortium of Australian Sexual Violence Researchers. She currently plays in 100% and Bloodletter.

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