Lowly: Heba

On debut album Heba, Lowly is skilled at communicating new ideas about the shape of pop to come.



Label: Bella Union
US Release Date: 2017-02-10
UK Release Date: 2017-02-10

Heba, the debut album from Lowly, arrives described as “noise pop", a compound that can take many different forms involving some combination of sonic pleasure and anxiety. Forms like Dan Friel’s Life (2015), coarse ear candy that cannot be wrung from the mind once heard. Kiiara’s “Gold,” from the same year, with its chorus that makes all of life feel chopped and screwed. More recentexemplars edit pure pop source material to create new works of uneasiness. Dan Deacon is an expert of both modes, having produced a masterpiece of original noise-pop composition (Spiderman of the Rings (2007)) and torn up one of the biggest pop singles in recent memory (“Call Me Maybe Acapella 147 Times Exponentially Layered”).

So where does Lowly’s Heba fit into this ever-shifting brand of “noise pop”? Nowhere, really, and that’s a good thing. Heba is a studio album; a studied album; a Scandinavian album. To seasoned ears, the voices of Heba are the latest dot for a line traced from ABBA to 4AD to Bjork to Nina Persson to Goldfrapp and early Knife. The music and production are what “trip-hop” might have become were the genre not so overdone in a previous generation. So the vocals, melodies, and beats of Heba are not groundbreaking. But the group is skilled at assembling these pieces and communicating some fresh ideas about the shape of pop to come.

The first track “Still Life” is one of the album’s only missteps. Initially, there’s an interesting set of contrasts, with a droning open that could be Stars of the Lid were it not so fast, followed by a drum beat designed to sound lagging even as it keeps the time. But as new components layer on, the song quickly reaches a point where too many incompatible things happen at once. The lead vocal is pleasant, but there’s little time to enjoy it because of another operatic voice and some sort of text-to-speech or otherwise automated spoken word competing for the listener’s attention.

“Deer Eyes” would have been an even more effective choice for the album’s introduction. Leaner and more compelling than “Still Life,” it’s a more confidently executed song and an obvious single. Rather than stack several elements on top of one another simultaneously, “Deer Eyes” showcases the band exploring different modes in succession--a characteristic the band’s bio/press kit refers to as “shape-shifting”. One group Lowly cites as a common interest for all members is Radiohead, whose influence is evident in “Deer Eyes”. Here the drums/percussion reference “Videotape,” which is one of Radiohead’s most beguilingly shape-shifting compositions.

An outstanding attribute of Heba is the use of turning points that add dimensions to songs, often in such an immediate or subtle fashion that the listener has no time to register the transition, just to enjoy the surprise of newness or harmony. As the chorus of “Mornings” asks “so how have you been?” new “tones of inquiry” (to paraphrase Joni Mitchell) appear or become suddenly apparent. This is all consistent with the band’s capability for transmutation.

“Prepare the Lake,” which is in the middle of the album, is the track that most thoroughly invites comparisons to individual rock/pop songs of the recent past. In specific ways, this song is to Lowly what “Coalman” was to the Delgados and “10 Mile Stereo” was to Beach House. “Prepare the Lake” does not produce quite as dramatic an effect as those songs, but those are two of the great pop numbers of the last fifteen years. That Lowly would play in the same ballpark on its debut album is a feat.

More evidence of Lowly’s attention to variety is the inclusion of calmer tracks to break up those propelled by heavy and/or up-tempo percussion. In addition to serving this function for the album’s sequencing, “Cait 2” and “Pommerate” and “Not So Great After All” feature differing musical contexts and production textures that also contribute to the vocal variety. For example, “Pommerate” sounds like Shelley Short, which cannot be said of the seven songs before it.

After each detour, the album returns to big beats, and from a rhythmic perspective, the most impressive song on the album is “Word,” an observational song that holds the drums back for about a minute, after which they come in to dominate the rest of the track. There’s a knowing interplay within this composition, between its percussion and compression and the repeated lyric “can’t get a word in”. And that’s how most of Heba operates, as a complex construct that through skill and magic sounds effortlessly sweet.


Cover down, pray through: Bob Dylan's underrated, misunderstood "gospel years" are meticulously examined in this welcome new installment of his Bootleg series.

"How long can I listen to the lies of prejudice?
How long can I stay drunk on fear out in the wilderness?"
-- Bob Dylan, "When He Returns," 1979

Bob Dylan's career has been full of unpredictable left turns that have left fans confused, enthralled, enraged – sometimes all at once. At the 1965 Newport Folk Festival – accompanied by a pickup band featuring Mike Bloomfield and Al Kooper – he performed his first electric set, upsetting his folk base. His 1970 album Self Portrait is full of jazzy crooning and head-scratching covers. In 1978, his self-directed, four-hour film Renaldo and Clara was released, combining concert footage with surreal, often tedious dramatic scenes. Dylan seemed to thrive on testing the patience of his fans.

Keep reading... Show less

Inane Political Discourse, or, Alan Partridge's Parody Politics

Publicity photo of Steve Coogan courtesy of Sky Consumer Comms

That the political class now finds itself relegated to accidental Alan Partridge territory along the with rest of the twits and twats that comprise English popular culture is meaningful, to say the least.

"I evolve, I don't…revolve."
-- Alan Partridge

Alan Partridge began as a gleeful media parody in the early '90s but thanks to Brexit he has evolved into a political one. In print and online, the hopelessly awkward radio DJ from Norwich, England, is used as an emblem for incompetent leadership and code word for inane political discourse.

Keep reading... Show less

The show is called Crazy Ex-Girlfriend largely because it spends time dismantling the structure that finds it easier to write women off as "crazy" than to offer them help or understanding.

In the latest episode of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, the CW networks' highly acclaimed musical drama, the shows protagonist, Rebecca Bunch (Rachel Bloom), is at an all time low. Within the course of five episodes she has been left at the altar, cruelly lashed out at her friends, abandoned a promising new relationship, walked out of her job, had her murky mental health history exposed, slept with her ex boyfriend's ill father, and been forced to retreat to her notoriously prickly mother's (Tovah Feldshuh) uncaring guardianship. It's to the show's credit that none of this feels remotely ridiculous or emotionally manipulative.

Keep reading... Show less

If space is time—and space is literally time in the comics form—the world of the novel is a temporal cage. Manuele Fior pushes at the formal qualities of that cage to tell his story.

Manuele Fior's 5,000 Km Per Second was originally published in 2009 and, after winning the Angouléme and Lucca comics festivals awards in 2010 and 2011, was translated and published in English for the first time in 2016. As suggested by its title, the graphic novel explores the effects of distance across continents and decades. Its love triangle begins when the teenaged Piero and his best friend Nicola ogle Lucia as she moves into an apartment across the street and concludes 20 estranged years later on that same street. The intervening years include multiple heartbreaks and the one second phone delay Lucia in Norway and Piero in Egypt experience as they speak while 5,000 kilometers apart.

Keep reading... Show less

Featuring a shining collaboration with Terry Riley, the Del Sol String Quartet have produced an excellent new music recording during their 25 years as an ensemble.

Dark Queen Mantra, both the composition and the album itself, represent a collaboration between the Del Sol String Quartet and legendary composer Terry Riley. Now in their 25th year, Del Sol have consistently championed modern music through their extensive recordings (11 to date), community and educational outreach efforts, and performances stretching from concert halls and the Library of Congress to San Francisco dance clubs. Riley, a defining figure of minimalist music, has continually infused his compositions with elements of jazz and traditional Indian elements such as raga melodies and rhythms. Featuring two contributions from Riley, as well as one from former Riley collaborator Stefano Scodanibbio, Dark Queen Mantra continues Del Sol's objective of exploring new avenues for the string quartet format.

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.