Arriving four years down the road from their 2010 debut, Fire Ahead is the sophomore release from California indie rock quartet Lakes. Fronted by singer/songwriter Seth Roberts, who has essentially led a version of this project since its early days as Christian rock act Watashi Wa, on through its later distillation as the more secularly aligned Lakes, the band has remained rooted in the pastoral setting of San Luis Obispo. Cradled between the central coast and the Santa Lucia Mountains, the group's expansive, low-key sound somehow matches the geography of the place as they blend uplifting, sunny melodies with thoughtful, guitar-based indie pop. Songs like the nostalgic anthem "1992" and the wanderlusting "Holiday" are well-crafted odes full of shimmering guitars and rich harmonies suitable for day driving down Pacific Coast highways and mountain roads. The open-room, heavily reverbed sound of contemporary indie folk is apparent throughout the album's production, especially on more acoustic-leaning tracks like "Yellie" and "Armacost Avenue," but in general, this type of mellow, introspective songwriting could have existed at any time from the '80s on up. If anything, Lakes resemble a modern-day edition of Santa Monica soft rockers Toad the Wet Sprocket, who charmed (or bored, depending on listeners' taste for this stuff) their way through the '90s on the earnest, folk-infused musings of singer Glen Phillips. Roberts' easygoing baritone even bears a distinct similarity to Phillips' voice and lyrical tone as if the two were drinking from the same West Coast well, decades apart. Lakes are not going to change the world with Fire Ahead, but Roberts and his colleagues have made a subtle, nicely detailed record that should resonate with fans of understated contemporary indie pop.
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AllMusic Review by Timothy Monger