There’s a reason why album release shows are so exciting. It affords the fans the opportunity to experience brand new material in a live setting then listen to the studio version on the way home from the show. I had never seen the Lowly Spects live nor had I heard any of their recorded material so I was curious to see what all the buzz was about. I had the chance to witness a pretty special show at the Constellation Room for Lowly Spects’ EP release on December 13th and while this isn’t a concert review, it’s definitely worth mentioning that these fellas put on a hell of a live performance.
It’s a pretty special thing when a band can produce a record that captures the energy and emotion of their live performance. Or is it the other way around? Either way, well done gentlemen. Lowly Spects’ EP The Hardest Man to Love is a collection of six songs that all seem to share a common theme. One listen-through and you’ll figure out pretty quickly what it is.
This record represents a well-received departure from some of the styling present on their last studio release. It’s almost as though they took the best-of from their first EP (I Don’t Feel Simple) and ran with it. The Hardest Man to Love is much more focused and cohesive. It’s difficult to describe exactly what the Lowly Spects sound like because they definitely blur the lines between genres but it’s this fusion of styles that helps to define them and their unique sound. Folk, rock, pop, and Christian contemporary all lend a hand in the soundscape of this record. The result is much more interesting and stimulating than one might expect.
The EP begins on a serious note with what I can only describe as lullaby-like in character. Upon first listen, To Be Well was one of my least favorite tracks on the EP but it’s quickly becoming one of my favorite. It features acoustic instruments including an aggressively capo’d acoustic guitar, vibraphone, pump organ, a couple more acoustic guitars and a mechanical motor (film projector? Leslie cabinet?) that come together in an offering of stripped down musical emotion. The beauty of this song is that it highlights front man Ethan Hulse’s impressive range and vocal qualities on par with huge acts like Chris Martin and Win Butler. Everything from his falsetto to his buttery harmonies is absolutely spot on. This song is well thought out and very well executed.
I won’t go into detail for all of the songs on this EP but one more track I’d like to break down is My Dead Body. This is the single from this EP and is available for free download here . This track stands out the most for me mostly because of their live performance of it. This song stuck. In my head that is. Maybe it was because Ethan announced that it as their single during their EP release show or maybe it’s just really good; I don’t know. What I do know is that when I listened to the studio version it reflected my memory of their performance EXACTLY…well plus a honky-tonk piano. The contrast between the instrumentality-sparse verses and the four-on-the-floor driving choruses has a profound effect; it keeps you locked in and listening. An excellent song and catchy as hell. Maybe it could’ve been a little longer but that’s me just being nitpicky.
Okay, let’s get technical for a minute. One of my biggest complaints about most records is the lack of dynamic contrast, or loud vs soft. In 99% of modern records there is a lack of dynamic contrast because of what has been appropriately deemed as “The Loudness War”. People want it loud all the time because reaching for the volume knob is an inconvenience. Well, as any classically trained musician knows, dynamics are as important as the notes accompanying them. If an intimate verse is just as loud as the exciting chorus then there’s nowhere to go dynamically. The song becomes an all-out assault on our collective ear drums. The Lowly Spects have done an excellent job in creating and maintaining the emotional content that is so easily lost in modern records because of the “the loudness war”. I metered a 27 dB dynamic contrast in My Dead Body. Excellent.
Congratulations to the Lowly Specks and producer/engineer Jonathan O’Brien for creating a terrific record. Lowly Spects displayed true musicianship, creativity and talent live and on their EP. There’s no doubt in my mind that they can rise above the underground scene in a time when acoustic, folk-rock bands like Mumford & Sons are selling out the Hollywood bowl. While I don’t know much about the Lowly Spects, I do know that they have displayed talent on par with some of the heaviest hitters in the Orange County music scene.
My advice? Buy this EP! You won’t regret it. My only complaint is that the whole thing is only 21 minutes long. I can’t wait for a full length album. Thanks for the music and I’m looking forward to seeing you guys do great things.