It's a meaningful distinction. NW indie-rock (sometimes called "beard rock") is a style with hallmarks: thoughtfully arranged songs you can't dance to; writerly lyrics about feelings; fey, "na & iuml;ve," or plain male falsetto singing.
The Lonely Forest? Check, check, and against-the-glass hockey check.
TLF is from beautiful, isolated Anacortes, Washington. Its members grew up together (on the same street, even) in a foggy, mystical town next to foggy, mystical islands: The San Juans loom over Anacortes' famous indie-rock scene (hometown heroes Mt. Eerie and the Microphones make world-renowned nature-loving psych-rock) but the Lonely Forest doesn't have anything to do with all that mythology. Geography and neo-hippie weirdness isn't what makes TLF's indie-rock "NW."
The Lonely Forest sounds like Pedro the Lion, creators of broody, beardy, definitively NW emo-rock.
Almost all the sound-alike qualities are due to TLF singer/songwriter/guitarist John Van Deusen. TLF started as a Van Deusen solo project, and it sounded like Pedro the Lion. Three EPs (Yossarian, John Van Deusen and The Lonely Forest, Regicide EP) later, TLF still sounds like Pedro the Lion on 2007 debut full-length Nuclear Winter.
Van Deusen channels Pedro singer David Bazan. His lyrics self-consciously overanalyze life; plaintive-wail choruses and soft-sung verses get delivered with the grandiose weight of a painfully aware apprentice poet. Writing about relationships (boy/girl; man/world), he sings in a repressed, determined manner that says, "What I'm about to vocalize is gonna hurt me more than it hurts you, and I'm scared. But it's gotta be done and I'm gonna testify."
"I'll tear my heart out, I'll tear my heart out," he deadpans on "Soil, Silt and Clay." Over what? Who knows, but it's not hard to take him seriously. There's nothing for a sensitive young man (he's 20) in Anacortes to do except get inspired and be hard on himself. He can sing "I'll tear my heart out" like it's (sadly) no big deal because it's probably a daily occurrence.
An especially confessional Van Deusen lyric explains his comfort zone is getting stoned and listening to (surprise, surprise) David Bazan. Go try that and tell me you don't feel like tearing your heart out, too.
Behind Van Deusen, TLF bassist Eric Sturgeon and drummer Braydn Krueger steal a slow-speed epic feel that is all Pedro, operating at an indie-rock tempo so NW it shall henceforth be called "The Evergreen Plod." Built around distorted electric guitar, acoustic guitar, or piano, all TLF's songs are rendered in ruminative grandeur.
Invented by children of baby boomers in boring locales, NW indie-rock thrives off paranoia that significant suburban life-moments are always, and unfairly, unheralded. TLF doesn't hail from a senior citizen snooze-hole (Pedro the Lion's Edmonds, Wash.) or depressing Seattle suburb (Death Cab For Cutie's Bothell, Wash.), but the band nonetheless works in this tradition.
The stately, minor-key stomp of "Wiseman's Warning" is full of significance, announcing something major is about to be related, and it's... what exactly? A metaphor about global warming and a female friend? Too convoluted to tell.
During the chorus on "You Move," Van Deusen's dreamy falsetto pledges, "I'll stand by your side if you keep me in line / Let me hold you at night when your body's cold, and we'll laugh at the words till we grow old." His tender coo and the song's us-against-the-world vibe promise brighter days under new authority, a move towards escape, release from the petty, the meaningless, the conventional: the suburban.
On "You Move," it becomes clear that TLF is Van Deusen's bar mitzvah: Through these songs, he is coming to understand human emotion, wrestling with cosmic indifference, daring to see beauty on the horizon. Through these songs, he is becoming a man.
The Lonely Forest with Slowly We Survive and Keep Pennsylvania Beautiful at Whitworth's Huxley Union Building (the HUB) on Saturday, Feb. 9, at 8 pm. $5; free for Whitworth students. Call 777-1000.