When we last left Lowlight, they were dancing in the gutters of the French Quarter; hearts poured out like cheap bourbon as they held a New Orleans-style funeral to their past. Their debut album Where Do We Go From Here was the open-casket.
The casualties were heavy: foundational guitarist Tony Aichle – who anchored the band’s early grit-n-dust-filled compositions – split for Nashville. Seapost, the wide-eyed bedroom folk project of singer Renee Maskin and drummer Colin Ryan, was quietly put to rest. And The Hsu-Nami, the acclaimed world music combo that featured husband-and-wife guitar and keyboard duo, Derril and Dana Sellers, released its swansong in mid-2016. They’re all gone now, left to the crate-digging obsessions of future fans. But with all that firmly in the past, and the critical addition of bassist Rey Rivera, Lowlight set off into the unknown.
That unknown has a name: Born to Run. And would you believe me if I said that the headline-grabbing title was the least interesting part of the whole affair? From the gate, the synth-led “Sleep Wounds” wraps Lowlight in a brilliant disguise of texture, color, and circular rhythm – more Debussy than Dylan – before transitioning seamlessly into the minor-key “Can’t Stop Now.” Maskin presents a familiar lament: thinking everything that’s set out before you will keep your life in order. But she quickly falls behind, succumbing to chaos as she stumbles through the song’s weeds and vines. Colin Ryan’s brush hits patter like fast-moving footsteps, marrying music to lyric in a way that few try, let alone master. “You see it coming / But you can’t stop now,” goes the mantra-like chorus, leading into a noise break that sounds like John Cale scoring a David Lynch film.
Even though “Nights and Weekends” shifts us back into a major key, its subject – the trials of being in a local band, hustling for a miniscule portion of an increasingly-shrinking supply – hits home. Lowlight takes the stage all fucked up, claiming everything’s fine. Each night blurs into the next. They know their window won’t stay open forever as Maskin sings “Looking for something more than all of this / And running out of time / Baby, like I was born to.” But just as things seem to get a little too real, Derril steps in with a guitar solo and Lowlight snaps together once more, this time led by Rivera’s locked-tight bassline. Reticence has turned to joy. Lyrics offer a new mantra: “Living off nights and weekends.” They’ve held the mirror up to the previous song: it’s not that you’re unable to stop now; more like, why would you stop now?
Born to Run caps off with a ten-minute near-instrumental called “Birdman’s Last Ride.” Most acts don’t have the gumption, let alone the chops to pull off anything even close. It is all at once tense, atmospheric, lush, and undeniably gorgeous; it stands as a highlight of the band’s sturdy, growing catalogue. Lilting lap steel, acoustic piano, close harmonies, bass chords, kinetic percussion – they tie it all together as Derril Sellers once again returns to the producer’s chair to provide both steady hand and subtle touch. Lowlight has proved itself capable of almost anything; a band fully in control of its faculties, having crafted an album so vital and compelling, it dares you to try and pin it down.
At this point, we should also stop calling Lowlight by a genre. Are they country? Are they synth pop, or rock and roll? Don’t bother. Like Can before them, they avoid easy categorization by continuing to move ever-forward. You can chase them all you like, though. Follow the scent of Jim Beam; of supermarket cakes and rose petals from Asbury Park, to New Orleans, up through Kenosha, Wisconsin, all the way to an opening slot with The Pretenders. But it will prove a fool’s errand because all Lowlight does is never stop. And that’s what it seems they’ll keep doing; always moving, always running, always just a little ahead of the rest of us.
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