Smile Politely

Re-emerging into a familiar relevance

I honestly never thought I’d consider writing something about Lanterna, because I never really knew them, or expected that there could be something new written about their music. Truthfully, I can’t even remember what made me stumble upon the project in the first place — though the music was compelling enough for anyone to get looped in on what Henry Frayne was producing.

Frayne’s project has been moving in and out of the forefront over those few decades, beginning in the early 1990s. I don’t necessarily feel like I should discuss what you can find in a Wikipedia page, but check that out if you feel so inclined to. Though I’ll discuss Frayne as the main portion of the outfit in this particular piece, there are other members to the picture, no doubt about it. But, take that as an early warning sign — Lanterna is most definitely a band, and Frayne is the center, but the music is most important, in my mind at least.

Most of the memory comes from not knowing anything about the project: who created the music, why it was created, when it came out, or anything that even remotely resembles doing “research” about a band. I just knew that a particular slab of music existed, and I took a liking to it. I feel like a lot of music listeners are like that, and just know that something exists in the back of their mind, or know that what he or she is hearing is enjoyable. Shortly thereafter, there was a realization that people were into what Lanterna was doing, obviously — but everyone engages with music differently and finds the path to the music in many ways. To me, the abstract of Lanterna was perfectly satisfying because I had the music, and now that we’re getting ready for a release show tomorrow night at Cowboy Monkey, I was a bit more compelled to put something together to talk about Frayne’s project.

I certainly don’t want to get too hyperbolic when discussing the project — which stems from plenty of places — though the significance shouldn’t be understated. Lanterna has developed a place within the community that makes sense, and hasn’t been overstated over time. The outfit stems from Frayne, no doubt — and his time with Ack-Ack, Area, and The Moon Seven Times — all of which have their places within the timeline of C-U music.

The music itself encapsulates so many different genres — ambient, acoustic, alternative, shoegaze, post-rock, amongst others — that pinning it down to a couple just doesn’t feel right. The record that struck me initially was Sands — the “slab” I previously mention, and an hour of music that felt good, but not for any particular rhyme or reason. It just so happened to stem from Champaign-Urbana, though it would sound good regardless of where you were listening from. Reviews on Pitchfork back in the early days of the publication didn’t come for all, and most certainly don’t nowadays — though Lanterna earned themselves a few.

Years later, I’ve learned more about the band — as stated, a project of Frayne, a fella who, to this day, I’ve never met or even communicated with. I kind of like that separation or “the unknown” portion. I hate to direct things to my time as Music Editor for this very publication, but it’s difficult not to sometimes. For a few years I spent time communicating with artists — local and not — about their music and provided some thoughts about it when I could. We’ve been talking about local music critique recently, which is pretty relevant when it comes to discussing Lanterna, a project that has come out of the woodwork after not releasing any material for a bunch of years. In a lot of ways, it feels better to return from the abyss with quality than to exist in the forefront in mediocrity (though expression, no matter high or low quality, remains important).

There’s no specific example I could provide, just a particular thought that comes to mind when Frayne’s outfit is on the docket for discussion.

Sands continues to resonate with me the most (of all the Lanterna records) to this day, regardless of how frequently or infrequently I listen. While maintaining simplistic qualities — acoustic guitars, drums, effects, no vocals — it feels more complicated than that. Listening to it is almost dizzying — revolving around specific riffs and tempos — so fixating on the simplistic characteristics might lead you down the wrong path if you’re not paying attention. That particular record ebbs and flows through the hour, which could work as a gift or a curse. It doesn’t maintain a particular course of action, it just happens and exists as it is, a chunk of 10 tracks varying in size and shape. 

From time to time, Slowdive comes to mind. (Well, many times, I suppose.) Otherwise, others like The Album Leaf make an appearance in my brain. Just particular qualities of Lanterna strike me as being influenced from particular styles or approaches, not necessarily a ton of overlap. You’ll probably find that something you’ve listened to of Lanterna’s reminds you of another — so on and so forth.

A constant cycle of ending up here or there while listening, which in a way, exemplifies what Lanterna creates in a whirling product of what comes out of their instruments. Their new record, Backyards, picks up where they left off in many ways — acoustic measures with twanged atmospheric and soaring guitar effects — and is a solid addition to their existing catalog. Plenty of tracks could be listed here, when in all actuality, you should just take a stroll yourself and discover what is out there — in your backyard, C-U (see what I did there?).

If you’re like me, you will probably just listen to the music a bit, and see if you enjoy it or not. Perhaps you do, and you’ll head out to see them tomorrow night with Tractor Kings and Mutts, two others that are surely proud to share the stage with Lanterna just as much as Lanterna is with them.

Lanterna, Tractor Kings, and Mutts are performing on Friday, March 13th at Cowboy Monkey at yes, a Smile Politely Show Series installment, which we’re thrilled about. This show will be an album release show for both Lanterna and Chicago’s Mutts.

Executive Editor

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