Album Review: Ad Mausoleum by Lefthnd
As I type this sentence, Scott Lane is looking over my left shoulder.
Okay, so it’s not Lane himself, but the signed and framed copy of River City Magazine with Lane’s photo on the cover that hangs over my record shelving — a reminder of one of my favorite interviews from my time writing for River City. We spoke over lunch at Ellwood Thompson’s in September of last year. Before we talked, I didn’t know whether the resulting piece would focus more on the label he runs, American Paradox Records, or on his prominent role in staging Richmond’s annual Last Waltz reenactment, which was set to take place shortly after that issue hit newsstands. I wrote down pages worth of questions about both, but I didn’t look at those notes once; Lane’s enthusiasm was too engaging. The way he praised the musicians he’s worked with at American Paradox, the insight he applied to his experiences with The Congress and his pathway toward becoming a producer, his depth of knowledge about The Band… it all had that conversational momentum that bends time — that thing where you can’t believe your watch when you finally end up glancing at it. I left that lunch with a thorough appreciation for why Lane is so frequently encircled by other brilliant musicians. As far as musical energy goes, he’s got gravity to spare.
A little more than a year later, with an exquisite debut EP already in the rear view, Lane has shared his first full-length album under the stage name Lefthnd. Ad Mausoleum represents our our most complete view yet of what it’s like when Lane himself is the creative center, and this could be the quarantine time vortex talking, but as I spin the vinyl copy that arrived in the mail late last week, I’m transported back to that lunch at Ellwood’s. The energy. The momentum. It’s all there. The album packs an abundance of ideas into 28 minutes, grabbing your attention from the outset and keeping it over the course of eight songs that form an exceedingly rewarding encapsulation of Lane’s talents as a player, songwriter, and producer.
This is one of those albums where each sound represents a choice. When we spoke last year, Lane described throwing as much as possible against the wall during initial tracking, which took place in Colorado in early 2019, and strategically deleting material a handful of months later, finding songs’ ideal form via elimination. There were additions at this stage as well, including drums, Rhodes, and piano from all-star multiinstrumentalist and collaborator Devonne Harris of Butcher Brown, but the prevailing image that comes to mind as Ad Mausoleum spins is of a sculptor who chiseled carefully over time to find exactly the lines he was looking for.
The cleanliness of those lines is striking. Lane’s vocals are crisp and assured; he sounds more like a front-and-center veteran than someone who’s in the process of taking that step forward. And the guitar sounds are an absolute masterclass. Take “Ghosts,” which he shared in July as one of the album’s lead singles: From the jangle of the opening arpeggiation to the tight and punchy riff that punctuates the chorus and the soaring, crunchy solo that answers by echoing the verse melody, each tone fits its function in service of the whole, yet each gleams when considered individually. (Credit is also due here to Adrian Olsen’s characteristically stellar mixing job.) As a guitarist who’s spent decades fumbling in the dark when it comes to amps and pedals, I desperately want to hit fast-forward and come out the other side with the rig-related sixth sense you hear on Ad Mausoleum.
Then again, that technical knowledge is meaningless without the ability to match elements to the moment — to envision what the song needs and respond accordingly — and Lane balances adventure and discernment beautifully when pulling together sounds from across the musical spectrum. That’s especially evident in the album’s nods to pop music. You have your high-flying choruses (the American Paradox family vocal in the chorus of “Speak“). You have nimble, turn-on-a-dime arrangement shifts (the starts and stops in “Euripidean“). You even hear remix-style redeployment of the album’s own source material (“Vessel” is immediately reworked via the closing track, “Fore“). Those pop signifiers result in a radio-ready brightness that makes the record’s scope feel massive. Still, the strongest connection to the pop tradition may be structural.
As songs progress, you’ll often find new layers in the arrangement, or subtle tweaks that distinguish one verse from another. Those differences give each composition a sense of directionality — you’re always moving forward, with a curatorial hand guiding the way. You hear it in the opening track, “Doorway,” when the second verse descends into a fuzzy, minor-chord darkness not found the first time around. (Another example: how the ascending chimes that regularly accent “Euripidean” shift slightly to manage the song’s mood.) These changes call to mind the definition of pop that Richmond singer-songwriter Tyler Meacham shared in our interview from earlier this year — that it’s “music that has a hook in every piece of a song.” I love that way of looking at the genre, and I hear that sensitivity to the listener’s experience in Lane’s work.
As marvelous as the architecture of Ad Mausoleum is, the big-picture impact shines just as brightly. It’s no exaggeration to say I’ve needed these songs. “Speak” is both timely and useful, with its crystal-clear call to “Speak truth to power / You won’t regret it.” I feel my own sense of bravery grow each time I hear it, and I’ve taken to imagining how perfectly it would soundtrack the closing credits of a documentary about the fall of the current presidential administration. (Fingers crossed, y’all.) “Vessel,” though, strikes me as the album’s beating heart. It’s been a source of personal healing since it was released as a single back in March, when pandemic panic was hitting hard. Its message digs deep. Hope. Faith. Knocking down walls. Poignant questions like “Don’t you want to live in a world where we belong?” and rousing declarations like “I am a dreamer / And this dream is real!” Full disclosure: That exclamation point doesn’t appear in the official lyrics, but given how inspired I feel when I hear that line, typing those words out without it seems downright inaccurate.
Lane’s choice of metaphor in “Vessel” couldn’t be more apt. As the head of American Paradox, and as the producer on outstanding projects from the likes of Kenneka Cook, Landon Elliott, and Sid Kingsley, Lane has proven himself to be an impeccable steward for the sounds others are hoping to commit to tape. Even when he’s making his own music, he’s providing tools for the empowerment of others. After listening to Ad Mausoleum, I want to go out and take on the world, and I think you will too.
Ad Mausoleum by Lefthnd is out now on American Paradox Records, available to stream and purchase over at this link through Bandcamp, Spotify, Apple Music, and other streaming platforms.