Lowtide - Southern Mind

by Steve Rhodes Rating:8 Release Date:2018-02-16
Lowtide - Southern Mind
Lowtide - Southern Mind

Australian dream-weavers Lowtide's eponymous debut album took its time to make its mark. Released back in 2014 in their home country and New Zealand, I stumbled upon it almost by chance a year later on a well-known streaming network and instantly fell in love, before it obtained a full worldwide release more than 2 years after its initial launch. Their sophomore album Southern Mind, follows on from successful stand-alone single Julia/Spring and their first overseas tour, and is a very impressive follow up that continues to respect their influences, but also drives the band into new and exciting territories, despite difficulties in losing their bassist and co-vocalist Giles Simon almost immediately after the recording was completed.

Feedback-drenched drone welcomes the title track, with the guitars starting to swirl around, as 80s drums and The Cure guitar expressions appear. A definite slow-burner, as Lucy Buckeridge's vocals emerge near the two minute mark, with a Gothic-tinged operatic expressiveness, like This Ascension, in the versus, as Lucy is joined in the chorus with fellow vocalist Giles. Subtle but haunting buried guitar tones are swamped by the denser swirls which enter into and out of the track whenever the vocals disappear. Moody as f***, but achingly beautiful and bewitching at the same time.

Single 'Alibi' is a significant change, linking more to C86 and touches of Disco Inferno, especially in the post-punk basslines, with the guitars seeming more enlightened, as they jangle, soar and swirl through the track. Lucy's vocals feel passive at times as the guitars and busy drums taking centre stage and somewhat envelop the track, especially in the chorus, but are much more uplifting, whilst still possessing tinges of melancholy, to keep the saccharine levels down. Nodding to Lightfoils, Seasurfer and The Darling Buds, the track, though pushing 4 minutes, seems to end pretty quickly, without lingering around into unnecessary repetition

The 80s-influenced opening to 'Elizabeth Tower' is almost uncanny in its similarity to a melange of She Sells Sanctuary and Siouxsie & The Banshees' Spellbound in the guitar swirls and bass. Giles' vocals take the initial lead, fairly monochrome but ideally suited to the beautiful noise, accompanied by nice ascending hooks in the bass. Lucy's more wistful vocals take over, before both combine beautifully in the bridge and chorus. With a feel of Slowdive on a saturated diet of Robert Smith, Gabriel Lewis' guitars feel more like a tribute to Julian Swales from Kitchens of Distinction, rather than the usual Robin Guthrie attachments.

A higher-end bass support the dueling guitars on 'AC', as Giles and Lucy's vocals again intertwine very well. The ironic clarion call of “celebrate yourself” could either be a clever riposte or just coincidence to a term of derision aimed at the original Shoegazers, as a nice spoken-word section appears in the middle of the track, with just Lucy's bass for company, before the guitars swarm around and drums return the track to its default position. Though it's a pleasant song it feels too long, seeming to check the momentum of the album with its subdued pace.

The brooding 'Olinda' maintains the slow pace, but is a far more interesting instrumental number, as a bass crawls along, joined by the odd interspersion of long-played cymbals and the odd rumbles of percussion, like elements of slowed-down thunder and lightning. Giles 'underwater' bass leads the way as Gabriel's delayed guitar tones cascade. A nice experimental interlude, that nods to Piano Magic or Drop Nineteens' long-lost Mayfield demos, that seems at odds with much of the album, and something which the band could definitely explore further in future releases.

It's difficult not to be pigeonholed when many roads to Shoegaze lead back to Slowdive and it's hard not too notice the affinity to Souvlaki on 'On The Fence' in its dual vocal and especially the drum patterns in the chorus, however there is much more than a tribute act here, with a pop-structured feel to the whole track. The vocals appear more set back and a little muggier, with Gabriel's guitar again dominating proceedings and though it feels a little more anodyne, struggling for hooks to cement the track from floating away into etheriel oblivion, it is still a warm and welcoming track that you can easily snuggle up to

The final third of the album is the pinnacle. 'The Fear' is Low with Alan Sparhawk gifted with a range of effects pedals to envelop the speakers. A bass drum and tom-tom heavy track, the bass guitar is nicely filtered, again feeling like being immersed in liquid. More spacious than much of the album, the gaps are infrequently filled by Gabriel's guitars, which remain beautifully decayed as always. Hinting to Galaxie 500 in the song structure, neatly opening out near the end, with Anton's drums unleashing its shackles and becoming more central to the track.

'Window' makes an instant impression, as buzzsaw guitars, conventional bass and drums lead into Lucy's Sarah records-style vocals, like The Field Mice or Heavenly. Feeling akin to early New Order meets Secret Shine there is more repetition here, but the rewards are immense, with head-nodding and foot-tapping a natural and mandatory reaction. All the musical elements align perfectly on an equal plain, a perfect measure of restraint and synchronicity.

Bass and guitar noises provide luscious backing to Lucy's sadness-tinged vocals on album closer 'Fault Lines'. Giles' vocals appear higher-toned with lyrics “you're leaving....you're always on my mind, you used to say this all the time”, almost prophetically sung, given Giles' departure from the band. More heartfelt than anything else on the album, especially with Gabriel's emotion-shredding guitar noises that wash over like a tide moving in and out. The interaction of Giles and Lucy's alternating vocals is just beautiful, reminding of the “though shall not....” vocal backing on Cry Little Sister from The Lost Boys' soundtrack. A wonderful finale to a cracking album.

In recent years Australia has produced a minefield of excellent like-minded acts, such as VHS Dream, Deafcult, Hazel English, Roku Music, Relay Tapes, Leave The Planet and the return of the grandparents of them all, The Underground Lovers, so it's difficult to stand out from the crowd, but Lowtide have certainly achieved that and even improved on their successful debut with the excellent Southern Mind. A beautiful and effortlessly dreamy release that immerses the listener in its hazy soundscapes allowing them to drift into tranquil escapism.

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