Trace Mountains’ 2020 debut album was a pleasant surprise in a year whose surprises were generally for the wrong reasons. That album, “Lost in the Country”, was this blend of optimism and realness, tackling tough subject matters like mental illness and uncertainty about the future ahead and packaging it in this very neat, jangly project that used all of these themes as undercurrents while its characters journeyed forward into the unknown. Something about the soft, breezy vocals and the hopeful sounding guitar lines really made the album click and was a source of comfort in a scary time.
“HOUSE OF CONFUSION” is a different animal. The winding road in the distance is no longer the focus, the journey has already begun and the speaker is reflecting on the present and past. Album highlight “7 ANGELS” looks at a relationship as a series of plans, both to continue loving and knowing when it’s time to depart. Structurally this doesn’t unfold like a beginning to middle to end narrative, rather it touches on everything at once, the relationship is both coming apart and being forged through shared experience. “AMERICA” uses recognizable iconography of an “open sky” and “moonlit road”, subjects that have defined countless songs, but it uses those as a snapshot of emotions felt around them, asking “makes you feel like you lost it a distance back there, don’t it?” and ruminating on what America is now and what it’s like living in it.
The instrumentals contribute to this light melancholy with a slower, weightier feel. Both “Lost in the Country” and this album have more than just a little helping of country to go along with their indie-rock sensibilities, but here I never feel like the instrumental is trying to pull ahead of the vocals; they’re both sort of staggering side by side. The drumbeat of “ON MY KNEES” is hesitant, it feels like it wants to take off sprinting in a direction but not knowing where to go it instead takes things slow.
On Apple Music, the lyrics aren’t presented in a standard line-by-line structure and rather as a paragraph. I’m not sure if this is an intentional choice, other lyrics sites like Genius have them in the more conventional form, but I really like the visual of seeing every line back to back. It really shows how much of a stream of consciousness this album really is, using roads and nature as a suit of armor to protect from what’s really going on under the surface: a general feeling that life could be better and it’s getting harder to live with increasingly negative thoughts. Trace Mountains don’t offer any solutions to this, rather it sits back and lets the listener connect with the universal concepts, acting as a bath to soak in one’s own uncertainties.