Lower – Seek Warmer Climes

At this time last year Iceage’s Atlanta visit was circled on my calendar as the show of the season. It was their Copenhagen scenemates and friends Lower, however, who carved the evening’s indelible impression. The quartet pulled off the rare feat of totally commanding the stage for a full set of material of which I had not previously heard a single note. Since that night I’ve been eagerly awaiting the band’s debut full length.

Lower evokes many of the same early ’80s touchstones as Iceage – Killing Joke, the proto-Joy Division band Warsaw, the Ex – but takes that source material into decidedly darker corners. Drummer Anton Rothstein leans heavily on his toms, crashing cymbals only sparingly to craft an tightly wound aura of tension. It’s not loud/quiet/loud, and not a slow burn so much as a controlled one – Seek Warmer Climes mostly churns along at the lower bound of moshpit tempos.

But their center of attention, both sonically and lyrically, is vocalist Adrian Toubro. “I’ll take you by the hand/ Make you understand what you’re about to engage in,” Toubro announces on opener “Another Life.” That something is relentlessly bleak. The album’s most approachable track – with its discernible chorus and guitar hook – is the sardonically titled “Lost Weight, Perfect Skin” and concludes with the line, “It was tough then/ Now it’s unbearable.” A wider-screen dose of existential ambition is evident on its more deliberate seven-minute centerpiece “Expanding Horizons (Dar Es Salaam),” which builds to a two-cello crescendo.

Lower’s excellent last single foreshadowed an evolution from the Fugazi-like aggression of their Walk On Heads debut EP toward the cerebral, willful claustrophobia of some of the best early post-punk. This mood works better in shorter bursts, however – while Seek Warmer Climes maintains a solid level of quality, its cumulative effect can be monochromatic. Lower waits until its eighth song to resolve the pent-up seething with a nominally more discordant version of “Craver,” the one repeat from their prior output. It fits perfectly within the set; a second, earlier pull of the release valve would have been welcome.

Lower doesn’t aim to be a joyride. On Seek Warmer Climes they’re impressive and compelling, if a shade short of captivating.

Seek Warmer Climes