Recently a day-long festival comprised entirely of bands from the Copenhagen underground was held in Los Angeles. Called 13 Torches For A Burn, the fest acted as both a celebration of that scene and a showcase for its wealth of burgeoning talent, some of which we’ve already seen on this side of the pond (Iceage released its excellent sophomore album last year, while Lust For Youth has returned with a new album just this month on Sacred Bones).
The close integration of bands within that scene is best summed up in Lower, a band whose members have performed with several other acts at 13 Torches For A Burn. The quartet attracted the attention of Matador Records to release its debut effort, Seek Warmer Climes, this week, and it is a dark storm of a record, all torrential drums and guitars. At the core of the album’s ten songs is the voice of Adrian Toubro, who comes on like a post-punk Morrissey, sounding like a doomed romantic and a tormented soul in equal measure.
Seek Warmer Climes opens breathlessly with “Another Life” and “Dart Persuasion,” two songs that barrel along with precision and momentum. On the opener, Toubro sings “Strive for another life / Open your arms invite it inside,” a neat summary of one of the album’s themes of reaching out for something greater. The intertwining guitars and snaking bass line perfectly embody the sense of angst that runs throughout the album. At times it works fantastically well.
“Lost Weight, Perfect Skin” slows the pace down just a notch, and as Toubro sings about “Aging so fast, going nowhere,” one senses the self doubt and vulnerability that makes listening to these songs such a surprisingly intimate experience. On that song and the later “Bastard Tactics,” Toubro’s register is at its most emotive and direct.
For all the brevity on the album, though, it is the seven-minute centerpiece in the middle that is both Seek Warmer Climes’ high point and its most pleasant surprise. “Expanding Horizons (Dar Es Salaam)” unfolds immaculately over its length, proving Lower’s ability to manage a change of pace without losing its focus. The climax is particularly haunting, backed up by cellos that sound fully integrated rather than shoehorned in, and it hints at a maturity well beyond what should be expected from these guys at such an early stage in their careers.
There is a sense that they are still fine tuning the details. “Unkempt, Uncaring” is an example of slightly off calibration, its intensity having been ratcheted up to the point where the song threatens to swamp some of the album’s clarity. The snare drum on the album also sounds strangely thin on its very rare appearances.
None of that, however, changes the fact that Seek Warmer Climes is a fine debut album, one full of menace and vigor and no little skill. The boys of Lower may not sound as nihilistic as they did on their earlier EP, but by abandoning some of their initial no-wave vibe for something meatier, they have opened up more possibilities and marked themselves as a group to watch very closely.
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