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Lowlights by Lowlights (Review)

Intimacy is what this recording is all about.
S/T - Lowlights

I can think of two ideal environments in which to experience Lowlights’ music. The first would be while driving down the interstate alone, drinking in the wide-open spaces of this great country of ours. The second would be in your room, preferably just after the end of a long day at work, with the sunset hazily peeking in through the blinds. And if you’ve got headphones, that’s all the better. On the surface, those seem like two opposite ends of the spectrum. However, and I’ve found this out through personal experience, they can both make for very intimate settings.

Intimacy is what this recording is all about. I’m not sure if its Dameon Lee’s voice, all breathy and husky as it sings of woe and heartache. Or maybe it’s the light, breezy instrumentation, be it Lee’s acoustic strumming or Noah Wilson’s brushed drums. Or maybe the weepy pedal steel of Brooks Otis and the sleepy horn arrangements that fill in the songs’ gaps. It’s most likely a combination of all of the above, and more. Whatever the case, songs such as “Dim Stars” and “Brown Eyes” are equally good as soundtracks for the landscape whipping by the driver’s side window and for just staring at the ceiling while memories tumble around inside your mind.

“Dim Stars” is highlighted by the sparse, ringing tones of Lee’s Rhodes piano, and the sauntering guitars add to the feel of being in some ghost town, staring at the sky as the stars begin to appear. Meanwhile, the keys of “Brown Eyes” practically shimmer as the pedal steel and horns peek in from the song’s edge. Lee’s voice is as intangible as can be as he sighs “But I was just caught up in your eyes/I guess it’s now my turn to cry,” which ensures the song’s weepier qualities. If you’re feeling cynical, you might observe that the song is almost too atmospheric, such that it practically threatens to drift away at any moment, but that’s all part of the charm.

“Gare Du Nord” builds on the sample of a train somewhere off in the distance, while haunting organs and wistful guitar tones weep away. In some ways, Lowlights might actually have more in common with the likes of Labradford (another group capable of creating expansive, yet remarkably intimate music) than some of the obvious comparisons (My Morning Jacket, Beachwood Sparks). Of course, the album never gets anywhere near as ambient as Virginia’s favorite post-rock trio, but some of the sepia-toned and desert-tinged atmospheres feel remarkably similar.

While much of the album is quite comfortable to remain ephemeral, there are a handful of tracks where Lee and Co. kick things up. The brushed drums of “Wave Goodbye” take on a familiar, old-timey shuffling as the pedal steel sways around Lee’s vocals. And “Flowers (In Her Hair)“ s increased pace lends it a sense of urgency. Lee’s vocals sound especially yearning as the song builds up to a gorgeous chorus of drifting guitars and organs. At times, the album’s hushed music can get a bit wan and pallid, so these uptempo numbers make for a welcome change of pace.

Despite Lowlights being primarily Lee’s baby, there’s plenty of respect for the contributions of the other players. No one instrument, be it Lee’s guitar, the organs, or the pedal steel, dominates the mix. Rather, all settle in quite nicely, crafting a dreamy, forlorn sound that feels very cohesive. At times, its hard to tell where one song ends and the next begins, and you’d be forgiven if thinking the stretch between “Last And Alone” and “Too Late” was just one long song. Lee even steps away from the mic on “Wheelbarrow,” allowing Angela Brown’s shy vocals to weave their shiver-inducing effect on the listener, a la Empress’ Nicola Petty. If you’re listening to this song on headphones, its fragility might just reduce you to rubble despite its brevity.

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