The seventh full length from New York City’s Ida finds the band, known for its quiet urbanity, exploring a “super woods, super organic, slightly mystical” aesthetic. On the heels of touring their previous record, 2005’s Heart Like a River, they began recording in Levon Helm’s home studio in the Catskill Mountains in the proximity of Woodstock, N.Y. The result, Lovers Prayers, is a set of intimate songs, which while often deeply rooted in traditional folk music are leavened by an acute attention to sonic detail.
Moving through a landscape…staring from the windows of a train, a car. Air. Light. Breath. When it works, the looseness of Ida’s approach on Lovers Prayers conjures or complements these things. By incorporating dissonance, drone and ambient elements, the songs sometimes take on a striking appearance and feel loaded with depth and meaning. Unfortunately, there are also moments when they seem all too unpleasantly devoid of these things, shot through with a sickly saccharine taste, empty behind a flimsy shade of winsome beauty. The songs strangle on their emphatic tone of earnestness, an aspect of Ida’s music that, as evinced by the hypnotic hangmen’s folk of “Willow Tree,” can also be a supreme strength.
The problem is that there are too few moments of levity on Lovers Prayers. Its heaviness can overflow into stale melodrama; it’s culling of memory into stifling nostalgia. A few more laid-back tracks like “Worried Mind Blues” and “Blue Clouds” could have done a lot to hold things together, adding dimension to a spare ethereality that too often drifts into immateriality.
Certainly, there is some unassailably gorgeous music contained in the fourteen tracks that make up Lovers Prayers. “The Love Below” is a pastoral dream set amidst drones and chiming guitar strings, a moving paean to love—”All praises to love/ From below and from above“—that builds into a wondrous, wordless bridge of breathy harmony. “Kora,” starkly rendered and influenced by Itari vocal arrangements, sounds like the casting of a darkly enticing spell and “First Take” is a mystical hymn that puts me in mind of the Fairport Convention’s mesmeric take on “She Moves Through the Fair.”
Ida’s approach toward creating atmosphere through the juxtaposition of different sounds and textures is laudable. But at that same time, it feels as if they got caught up in creating a mood from different angles, a mood that unfortunately led them to some sub-par songwriting that empties out the arrangements. The best moments on Lovers Prayers bridge this gap, revealing a capacity for an engaging inventiveness that allows them to flush out each shimmering facet from their material.
MP3: “Lovers Prayers”