It’s bound to be a great year whenever Lakes spoil us with a new album – make no mistake about it. The Watford rock act had charmed me with their previous effort Start Again at the time of its release back in 2021, a record whose collection of tracks still hits me to the core to this very day with its consistent display of earnestness and intelligent yet dynamic songwriting. They established a sonic Venn diagram of sorts merging technicality, catchiness, and emotional authenticity that’s hard to pull off, managing to do so in such an effortless fashion. It is with this already strong sophomore output that leads way to Elysian Skies, where we find Lakes expanding upon that Venn diagram towards new heights by taking a more grandiose approach to their performance while retaining, and refining, their already excellent math pop chops.
What initially made me gravitate towards Start Again was the sheer sense of tact weaving through its otherwise tight-knit tracklist; a careful optimism that presented itself as self-aware rather than barraging you with toxic positivity. This trend continues throughout Elysian Skies, this time the band guiding you towards the horizon of a new day with a poise that denotes sage wisdom (and a bit of tough love, too!). The band does a terrific job matching the musicality with that imagery, displaying for the first time a collage of sounds that ebbs and flows, crescendos, and simmers with a free-flowing elegance that instantly pulls you in.
Starting off the album, “Deep End” gives you a great idea of this sonic modus operandi Lakes has developed for Elysian Skies. It’s notable how the songwriting has more breathing space on this occasion, each instrument taking its time to build up one another towards a gratifying apex that additionally serves as reassurance that everything is going to be okay. They do not shy away from exploring other, less cheerful moods either, as exemplified by the somberness found on “Chablis”. The emphasis on the upbeat for most of the song gives a disorienting edge to this superb alt-rock cut, anchored by a vocal cadence that is novel to the band and that further accentuates the vulnerable lyrical matter and melodies showcased throughout.
Speaking of vocal cadences: Another highlight from their previous record for me was the shared vocal duties between Roberto Cappellina and Blue Jenkins. Their chemistry is locked-in to fruition, a naturalness that breezes its way through the otherwise busy instrumentals with an execution that is to die for. On Elysian Skies, such chemistry is as strong as ever and with an adventurousness that sees Lakes at their most confident yet. With just giving tracks like the back-to-back “The Face You Make” and “Cut and Run” a listen, you’ll instantly notice a sense of dynamics in their delivery, whether it be coming from the sharp and upfront flow of the verses off the former or the overall soaring performance found on the latter.
Still, nothing beats their sense of melody and hooks, as evidenced on “Aces” and “Joker”. “Aces” might very well just be the summer song for 2023, with a sonorous drive that is instantly contagious and a chorus whose high-spiritedness will no doubt leave you euphoric throughout the day. Meanwhile, a song like “Joker” gives a spotlight to the songwriting proficiency that Lakes possess as a unit, in addition to containing one of the most catchy and emotionally-charged moments of the record in its outro.
Elysian Skies also sees the band treading on new sounds and excelling at it. The most notable instance comes in the form of the aforementioned “Chablis” in all its borderline dark prog splendor. However, we also have tracks like the one that follows it, “TLC”, where its serene pacing and feel-good attitude leads way to the final product being a fantastically composed prog pop song with rich layering and a haunting undertone that seals it all. The same can be said for the balladry demonstrated on “Tie Dye”, in this case putting their Midwest emo sensibilities up front and intertwining them with gorgeous acoustic arrangements.
It’ll be sooner rather than later when Lakes position themselves as commanding figures within the current alt-rock and emo scenes (and beyond, if I’m being honest with you), and Elysian Skies is a resounding indication of that. It’s in the focus and care the sextet provides to each track – letting them shine on their own while simultaneously never straying away from being cohesive within the context of the album – that you know you are witnessing something special here. The fact that they’re also able to smoothly hold their ground and expand when met with other sounds and influences further makes this band an exciting one to watch unfold. If Start Again wasn’t clear enough, then, without a single doubt, Elysian Skies is the telltale sign that Lakes are the band you need to have on your radar right now – and deservedly so.