Home Music album Lower Town: The Gaping Mouth album review

Lower Town: The Gaping Mouth album review

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The Lower Town speaks of childhood as of the recent past, as if a strong gust of wind could bring them back to adolescence. It doesn’t hurt that the duo, consisting of singer and guitarist Olivia Osby and multi-instrumentalist Avshalom Weinberg, have barely graduated from high school. The two bonded The bright spot 2 and Alex G in sophomore year at private school in Atlanta, and they moved on to the uncertainty of 2020 with a self-produced album and a recording deal with Dirty Hit. Their second EP on the label, The gaping mouth, gestures towards their chamber pop influences but departs from form, cutting a winding path into adulthood.

Osby sings with a nervous cadence, cramming rushed syllables into contrasting bars as if each verse could be his last. Although her voice retains the same basic youthfulness as that of last year Honeycomb, Bedbug EP, it sounds more knotty and brattier, nasal vowels lengthened and protruding from his whispered sentences. Her pinched aggressiveness suits freer writing, reminiscent of Frances Quinlan’s raspy indignation when she sings blackbirds (“those stupid little beasts”) on “Seaface,” her voice dripping with contempt.

The songwriting is a step up from previous Lower Town efforts: the remarkable knock-offs of Alex G (the dog named “Randy” in last year’s “My Dog” might as well have been being “Harvey”) are replaced by poetic images and non-linear narratives. While the mumble of Osby’s stream of consciousness leads to a few stoned aphorisms (“Everything is intentional if you pay attention,” she whispers over “Clown Car”), there are just as many surprising gems: “You you are the iris in my eye, ”she sings on the title track,“ The more light, the further back you go. Her cryptic metaphors and close-knit voice evoke the muted tones of an insomniac’s ramblings, sometimes literally: Producer Catherine Marks loved the vocal take recorded at Osby’s house at 4 a.m. for “The Gaping Mouth” so much. that she used it in the final mix.

Music and lyrics on The gaping mouth move independently of each other, reaching the same destination at different rates. Osby sings over Weinberg’s instrumentation with a mixed mood but a distinct rhythm. Phrases and musical patterns repeat themselves, but anything resembling a chorus hardly reappears in a predictable way. Instead, Weinberg’s accompaniments feel more like loose guides to Osby’s words, more like a score of his slam poetry than a unified song.

Weinberg experiments more with song structure here, and his slender compositions often leave a more lasting impression than words. His classical training and his background in jazz and math rock are evident in the agile fingerpicking and complex rhythmic changes. In the finest moments, it’s tempting to want an instrumental version of these songs, their delicate melodies pushed into the background even by Osby’s calm delivery. For an album so anchored in the smallest details of adolescent emotions, the plaintive accompaniment, which evokes more solo guitar composition than independent rock, seems mismatched. But when they lean into simpler song structures, like the closer “Sunburnt”, the duo’s chemistry becomes clearer, with Osby’s voice rising to meet the bigger sound.

The Lower Town tends to disastrous adulthood, but they add warnings to their anxiety: they know that 19 is not old, but it is “old enough” to be threatened by the. time passing by. This nuance is sometimes done to the detriment of the melody: the sinuous verses of The gaping mouth might find their way into the margins of a notebook, but they would be a hard sell for a karaoke night or a singing cathartic band. Still, that feeling of loneliness might be the point. Leaving childhood is a deeply isolating experience, especially when lockdown and midlife plague your senior year of high school. The gaping mouth sounds the way a teenager feels: aware but not sure yet.


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