OVER THE PAST DECADE, more than 75 (!) musicians have played a part in Portland chamber-folk cornerstone Loch Lomond.
But the centerpiece of this delicate spectacle has always been Ritchie Young, whose big voice and beautiful tunes have commanded the project’s spotlight since its 2003 debut, When We Were Mountains.
That album was essentially a Young solo project that set his miniature epics against drum machine beats, synthesizers, and other modern trappings. Over the years, however, Loch Lomond evolved toward more traditional orchestral elements: strings, woodwinds, chiming percussion, and so on.
Loch Lomond certainly hasn’t left that style behind on their new album, Pens from Spain. Opening track “A String,” for example, is built on a playful piano line and features its share of string and horn swells. “Violins and Tea” moves confidently, with lush acoustic guitar and sparkling bells alongside the gentle drone of the song’s namesake instrument. “Nocturnal Me,” propelled by martial drums, is so dexterous, powerful, and tense, it feels like an excerpt from a terrific piece of theater. (Young should try his hand at a musical, if he hasn’t already.)
Lyrically, Young is (as is often the case) inspired by place. “Seattle Denver Arms” gives the man a chance to showcase his porcelain falsetto. “Holland” is a short and gorgeously spectral instrumental. “Listen, Lisbon” employs a bossa nova beat and a roller coaster siren’s song for a coda. The title track is a clear highlight, blossoming from a sparse acoustic tune into a slinky bleep-bloop jam in the space of about four minutes.
Young’s interest in electronics has returned in earnest on Pens from Spain. Besides the title track, this aesthetic is most successful in “Be Mine & Be Kind,” which pairs inorganic beats and bubbly synths with a warm trumpet solo. It’s Loch Lomond, Spoon-style. One of the album’s last tracks, “Soft River,” is downright dubby in its beats and bass line, while a set of smeared vocals float and flutter above like psychedelic clouds.
These touches are tastefully added in ways that augment—and never distract from—Young’s distinctive songs. Pens from Spain feels like a transitional album, but transitioning to what? Who knows. For now, it’s a bridge well worth crossing.