Rockaway Beach, NY folk experimenters Lewis Del Mar release a debut album which, in places, justifies much of the hype surrounding the group but ultimately fails to truly captivate throughout.
Lewis Del Mar is the debut album of the New York based duo of the same name who emerged from nowhere in the summer of 2015 to captivate the blogosphere with the release of the viral hit "Loud(y)". Its heady mix of percussion driven acoustic guitar and jarring electronica captured the spirit of acts ranging from Bon Iver through to Flobots with its strong pop sensibilities. Lyrically it soundtracks youthful freedom and defiance and is rich in pop culture references, in particular through its attacks on internet naysayers (“You love to feel offended, fighting from computer trenches, you got a semi-automatic mouth”).
“Loud(y)” appears on the album, as do a number of other previously released tracks. In fact, of the 10 tracks on Lewis Del Mar, only 5 are being heard for the first time. Many of these tracks follow the same lyrical formula with their varying takes on coming of age as youth gives way to adulthood. Take as an example “Malt Liquor” with its exploration of the insatiability of human nature, the desire for more, the next big thing, the next high and the pursuit of “the pleasure brand new”. In spite of the relatively limited topic areas, there are indications of the potential for intelligent songwriting spread across the album. “Painting” is filled with artistic references and sees the group seeking the freedoms to express themselves, symbolically, through the painting on the walls and floors of your flat. “14 Faces” meanwhile provides an interesting study of the various sides of the human character.
The band’s work is also deeply influenced by the pair’s varied roots. “Puerto Cabezas, NI” is a tribute to the town Miller’s parents met, his father being a native Nicaraguan, and it simmers with Latin American rhythms. These sounds are found elsewhere on the album too as samples are included and percussion ensembles replicated. The duo also hold their New York environs close to heart, both sonically via the hip hop beats they sample or recreate and the aesthetic of their work, particularly on “Drinking Tap Water“ and “Islands” as they sing about relationships in the city and the experiences of urban living. Those places they live in also feature heavily in the video of “Loud(y)”.
Sonically, the opening track “Such Small Scenes” shows gradual evolution from what has come before, the industrial reverb and distorted bass sitting below the trademark acoustic line courtesy of singer and guitarist Danny Miller. “Islands” is arguably the most distinctive track on the album, initially a stripped-back piano-led ballad which gradually builds with pulsating electronics, softening the angularity of much of the rest of the album. However, many of the other tracks follow a very similar pattern, to varying degrees of success, and here lies an issue which runs throughout the album.
Despite the credible efforts to push musical boundaries and challenge expectations, this album ultimately feels safe in its sound, experimentation somehow feeling comfortable. ”Malt Liquor” for example feels like a musically diluted “Loud(y)”, a successful formula hit on and pushed throughout the album. It is almost like a less art school Alt-J, a less industrial Yeezus-era Kanye, a less subtle Bon Iver, and altogether it lacks anything truly ground-breaking. Coming away from listening to the album there is also a nagging feeling that not all of it will stick with you, despite its reliance on a formula of simple riffs and hooks.
This may seem unfair as there are still a number of great songs on the record and the formula they follow isn’t a bad one. It is even more impressive given Miller and drummer/producer Max Harwood have only been working on Lewis Del Mar for just over two years and “Loud(y)” was their first public release, with much of the album recorded and self-produced in the duo’s bungalow. Lewis Del Mar have captured the spirit of a summer evening in the record, arguably releasing the record a few months late, and have crafted some fantastic tunes for whittling evenings away in the sun. However, and it is a shame to say this, whether these memories will last as we enter into the long dark evenings of the winter remains to be seen.