Lowtide come on like a band that you would think has been around for years, producing a certain type of nostalgia that washes over you warmly in the form of atmospheric waves of guitar and softly soaring vocals. A depth of emotion that casts you back to obscure memories from your past and leaving you with the feeling that at least one of their songs was the soundtrack to a poignant moment in your young life. With a critically acclaimed self-titled debut LP under their belts and coming off the back of their first international tour in the UK and Europe late last year, the Melbourne outfit have been steadily building up steam in preparation for the release of their sophomore effort, Southern Mind.
The record is a confident step forward for the band who are constructing a solid base for themselves inside the dream-rock/shoegaze arena. Tracked in only five days across two sessions in April and June 2017 at Aviary Studio in Abbotsford, Victoria, they then spent a few months mixing it with pal Matt Hosking. Throughout, we are again treated to the enormous, waterfall textures that the band are known for.
We jump straight in, with the title track opening up the first side and are greeted by the ambient rising of a guitar track that pervades the entire song, acting as something of a musical river in which the rest of the sounds will sit. It isn’t long before Anton Jakovljevic’s perfectly subtle drums drop in, accompanied by Lucy Buckeridge’s simple and precise bass line providing the rhythmic crux for Gabriel Lewis’ gleaming, watery guitar phrases to float on top of. It’s a slow burner, intensifying as the track rolls on, with the dual vocal lines rising and sitting well in the lush soundscape – the perfect opener for the album, hinting at both the intense textures and the sweet, smooth melodies to come.
“Alibi”, the first single dropped from the album in August 2017, is up next and it takes a decidedly more upbeat path. The drums in particular become a little busier and accompanied by the lyrical motif concerning a failing relationship, this track shows the more pop-oriented side of the band. The top three is rounded out by the second single from the album, “Elizabeth Tower”. Another dreamy, mid-tempo rocker, it opens with a delightfully catchy guitar line, the band showing they certainly chose the most radio-friendly tunes to release as their singles.
“A.C” comes in as the fourth track and is perhaps the best showcase the album provides of the mesmerising effect of Buckeridge and Fielke’s dual vocals. Singing different parts in different octaves, the two seem very accomplished in this beautiful science. Despite their proficiency, it appears this album may be the last we’ll hear from Lowtide featuring this vocal feast, with the group announcing Fielke’s departure upon completion of Southern Mind. Speaking with the band’s guitarist Gabriel Lewis, he comments on how it has been moving forward without one of the founding members. “It has been quite strange and something we’re all probably still adjusting to. It’s a definite change in the overall dynamic,” he says. Moving forward, the band have recruited Jeremy Cole of The Zebras to fill Fielke’s role on stage. In terms of playing live, Lewis says the transition, though tough, has been relatively smooth. “He’s quite familiar with the music as he recorded our first few releases, so has picked things up with ease,” Lewis explained.
The complex and driving vibe of the band’s music is due in no small measure to Lewis’ guitar style. Throughout the album, particularly on “Southern Mind” and “Window”, one could be forgiven for attributing the ambient and texturised layers that form the base for many of the songs to the presence of some kind of synth – most likely layers of different synths. However, Lewis is quick to inform us that those enormous, drifting sound walls are created purely with guitars. “It’s actually all guitar running through different combinations of reverb, delay, chorus and fuzz. Most of that is done with Zoom Multistomp pedals,” he tells me. But to achieve that vast sound, he not only messed with the familiar effects, but the way he approached the guitar parts themselves. “I recorded most of my guitar parts broken down into smaller sections, sometimes breaking chords down to single string parts,” he says. “We could then treat them individually with different effects for richer textures and also have more control over the density and movement through the use of panning and EQ.”
“Olinda”, the shortest track on the album at just over two minutes, is the album’s only instrumental. A slow and dark movement rich in delayed guitars and shimmering cymbals, it splits the album’s two halves. It is perhaps a little slice of filler that isn’t altogether necessary, but with all the other tracks on the album (with the exception of the two singles) coming in around the five-six minute mark, it does serve as a brief reprieve while not subtracting too much from the general mood the album.
Next we encounter “On the Fence”, another foray into the more upbeat pop side of the shoegaze universe. While not quite delivering the joyful quality of “Alibi” or “Elizabeth Tower”, it keeps the album moving along nicely, producing one of the more dreamy, floating-on-a-cloud like moments of the album, the twin vocals again complimenting each other nicely.
The second half of the album does not pack quite as much of a punch as the first, but the album is far from being top heavy. While we’re primed in the first 20 minutes with the more catchy tunes, the bottom end is where the band really drives home the recurring motif of the record. “The Fear” and “Fault Lines” both circle around the idea of heading south in a figurative manner, whether that be in a failing relationship or in a degrading state of mind. “Window”, however, explores the idea of south being a good thing. One of the album’s more uplifting songs, it seems to comment on the journey to healing through pain. As singer and bassist Lucy Buckeridge explains, “South can be a positive thing, a change.”
Overall, Southern Mind leaves you with a feeling of melancholic joy. A sense of looking forward as you come into the light after a painful journey, knowing the reward will be worth it. As the band moves into a new era, this seems perfectly fitting.
Southern Mind is released Friday 16th February via Rice is Nice and Opposite Number.