With a blustery but cathartic release of steamy melodies spilling into one another, the title track in Friends and the Fakers ushers us into the sonic adventure that is the debut album of rock n’ roll duo LowRay with a radiant glow. Faceted with a dreamy groove that spins around in a drunken sway and accented with introspective, somewhat self-aware lyrics, the song layers one heavy tone atop another but makes sure to stop just short of becoming overwhelming.
As the hum of the warm electric guitars fade away and we get into the swing step of the aptly titled “Western Song,” the pace receives a kick in the pants from drummer James Irving, who dexterously walks us into a bluesy rhythm that makes for a refreshing follow-up to the indulgence of the title track. Singer/guitarist Daniel Fowlds whispers his lyrics plainly and sweetly in between the bursts of grinding organ and guitar vibrato, and it isn’t until he starts in on the acoustic “I’m Sorry” that we realize this is just the tipping point of his abilities. “I’m Sorry” pendulously stares down the barrel of a smoking guitar lick that punctuates the acoustic strumming with impunity, but our singer isn’t about to let its rattling ominousness steal the limelight from his poetic verse.
Following a startlingly bluesy conclusion to track three, “8 Track Tapes,” a zany pop number that reminds me a lot of a cleaned up Seattle sound, takes center stage and injects a vinyl-quality melody into the mix that brightens up the dark trail left behind by its predecessor. It doesn’t take long for LowRay to jettison back into the vortex of spacey post-punk though, and “Palisade” might just be his most haunting contribution to Friends and the Fakers. Driven by a reverberating bassline that puts so much pressure against Irving’s drumming that it feels like the track is about to come apart at the seams, “Palisade” is sensuously mischievous and seriously attentive to the littlest of details. Every nuance in this song’s studded groove is essential to its elegance, from the rigidity of the percussion to the radiant minor key crooning of Fowlds. This is a hard track to forget, and I can already tell it’s going to become a favorite of LowRay fans in the future.
“Waiting for You” isn’t quite as cinematic as “Palisade,” but its glassy opening melody is so sharp that it’s able to stay sonically on-par with the rest of what we’ve heard so far. Once the song warms up and gets into its groove, it actually boasts a lot more cumbersome harmonies than what it initially suggests, and I would say that ultimately it’s one of the most elaborately constructed songs on the whole of Friends and the Fakers. “Lonely Tuesday Night” tosses in a splash of old-fashioned Americana before giving way to the jazz-spiked “Let Me Be,” which throttles as much emotion at us as “Palisades” does bass-heavy confidence.
The Nazareth-inspired intro on “Sooner or Later” put a big smile on my face when I first played this album from beginning to end uninterrupted; not only does LowRay know how to be ironic and reverently creative with their music, they also know how to be witty and earnest. The cavalier “There’s a Place” wraps up Friends and the Fakers on a particularly upbeat note, and upon its conclusion, it leaves in its stead a couple of questions about what we just experienced. Is LowRay’s virgin album a formal projection of their definitive sound, or is it but the first stepping stone in a long evolutionary journey? At any rate, it’s a stellar way to enter the recording scene, and I for one couldn’t be more impressed with its artistically virtuous, substance-filled material.
-review by Scottie Carlito