[17 June 2014]
PopMatters Associate Music Editor
Matador Records has a steady stable of rock bands pushing the limits and twist the expectations of punk sound and aesthetic. Currently, Fucked Up has blown hardcore wide open into their own brand of hooky arena rock. Savages deliver a serious post-punk palate as sharp and cool as a fresh blade. Iceage is so aggressive and unruly the band’s murky songs threaten to fall apart at any moment.
This vein of music isn’t new to Matador. The label has always found band’s pushing the limits of underground expectations—see the bluesy howling of Come or the more recent lo-fi scuzz-pop of Times New Viking—but they seem to be leaning hard on this tangent yet again with this volatile bunch of bands. Lower is the latest to join the ranks. Like Iceage, they hail from Copenhagen, though the scuffs and barbs of their sound are coated in a troubling shimmer rather than caked in Iceage’s sonic mud. Lower’s debut, Seek Warmer Climes, is a frenetic and deeply intense record, one whose sonic layers and emotional weight both drive the uncertainly forward and threaten to crumble the whole proceedings under them.
Propulsive opener “Another Life” sets the stage well for the album. The thundering tom work from the drums opens up a rumbling space for jagged guitars and a bone-dry but resonant bass to fill out the track. The music has the quick rise and fall of someone taking panicked breaths, of someone struggling to keep up. Singer Adrian Toubro sounds like he’s simultaneously above the fray and panting along with it. “Strive for another life,” he pleads, to himself as much as someone else. “Open your arms and let it inside.” Even as he offers to be the guide on this new venture, the band behind him presents this as unsteady terrain to venture across. It gets no more certain, but just as exciting, on “Dart Persuasion”, where the toms churn even faster and the riffs whip around like a tension cable that has snapped. It’s a song, at least at first, of laying yourself bare, of telling too much truth, and you can feel the discomfort as much as you can feel the freedom as Toubro howls out over echoing guitars and shattering cymbals.
Seek Warmer Climes, despite the endgame implied in the title, is a complicated record about expanding your horizons, about settling with yourself in the moment and finding new things about yourself in new experiences. But it’s not just about a change of scenery to change yourself, it’s also about the various ways in which we hide. “Lost Weight, Perfect Skin” and “Bastard Tactics” delve into these themes most clearly. When Toubro sings about fingers running through hair in the latter, it feels like a violation, like an act of force rather than intimacy. Meanwhile, on the former, the guitars soften as he pulls on each word in the verses, verses that find stagnation, someone feeling stuck, until the title traits promise to “bring the smile back.” That Toubro makes the promise sound empty purely through delivery, and the band’s dream-like sounds, makes it one of the album’s finest moments.
These parts of the album show Lower at full strength because they rely on a singular, unique tension. If Lower is not the first band to combine expansive sound with compact, tense structures, then the band’s combination of these elements is still a new and often exciting variation on that old theme. Lower is epic in a very different way from, say, Fucked Up, and their own lofty ambitions work when they are combined with their youthful sneer and nervous jittering.
The band clearly finds their confidence on Seek Warmer Climes, and that confidence sometimes pushes them outside of their best traits in search of (yet again) something new. Album centerpiece “Expanding Horizons (Dar es Salaam)” is based on a real experience Toubro working at an orphanage in Tanzania. There’s a very honest emotion at its core, but it suffers from many of the growing pains that come from trying to turn biography into story or song. It lacks the tight borders of these other songs and it stretches out it feels less expansive than formless. It’s a song with moments, but those moments never cohere into a convincing whole. The same is true of “Tradition”, a song that has some of the most furious guitars on the record, but Toubro seems insistent on fitting awkward phrases into the song and the big drums and tangled guitars don’t build tension so much as they get backed up on themselves.
So there is still room for growth on Seek Warmer Climes, but Lower still presents itself here as an exciting and volatile act. This is an interesting document on the discoveries and anxieties of youth, and the way those two can confuse each other. It’s an album often more complicated than it seems, and that it what makes it a solid debut, even if sometimes fruitful complication fumbles into confusion.