“Rites”—our first taste of Past Life, Lost in the Trees‘ new LP, due Feb. 18 via ANTI—isn’t a great single. That’s not to say that it’s a bad song. Premiered Monday by Rolling Stone along a with minimal, sing-along video, its arrangement is airy and calming. Back-up singers and reverb follow Ari Picker’s ever-delicate singing, intimate emotions expanding subtly like ripples on a pond. The music is skeletal, with guitars and bass that mainly keep time and a few piano notes to fill in the gaps. Following two albums of string-buttressed sorrow and redemption, Picker promised that the new record would strip back and focus on different feelings; “Rites” achieves at least one of those goals.
It’s pretty, but it feels slight without context. The group’s recent live sets traded strings for more distortion and more guitars, and it’s easy to imagine “Rites” as a clearing of the air between more challenging inclusions—one of which might be “Lady in White,” a haunting electro-ballad streaming without explanation on the band’s website.
“Rites” also reaches for references the band has yet to provide. “Where does your art come from?” Picker whispers at one point, appearing to answer his own question: “The lion and the lamb.” On its own, the couplet carries little definitive meaning, but it could easily work as part of an album-spanning conversation, like the ones have elevated Lost in the Trees’ past LPs.