On Lost in the Trees’ stunning breakout album, 2012′s A Church That Fits Our Needs, Ari Picker grappled with his mother’s suicide, singing in a melodramatic tenor boosted by lush, swooning strings and brass. With Past Life, he toys a bit with this grandiose template, and the result is a more immediate and, ultimately, more satisfying sound.
Lyrically, Picker weaves together a loose concept about two eternally separated souls, though it mostly reads like pointillist poetry — blending precious imagery of bleeding hearts and shadowy ghosts and night-swimming angels. Sonically, he’s pared back his mini-orchestra lineup to a stark electro-rock quartet; minimal pianos and synths chime over a palette of drum loops and loping basslines, with Picker’s yearning voice at the core of each track.
It’s a trim 38 minutes, but the quartet covers plenty of ground, using subtly varied instrumentation to flesh out that evocative framework — take the slithering bass groove of “Rites,” or the twinkling chamber-jazz of “Glass Harp,” or soulful closer “Upstairs” (which sounds like the lonely distant cousin of Radiohead’s “House of Cards”). It’s a testament to the sturdiness and depth of Picker’s songwriting — the more he strips away, the more secrets he reveals.