A Decade Of Lower Than Atlantis

[This is a post written for a new fun project with my friend Patrick, find our shared music blog here!]

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How do I feel about Lower Than Atlantis these days? Well… conflicted, would be the first adjective that comes to mind. They’re a band I grew to love as I made my way from World Record, into Far Q, and onwards again to Changing Tune. We were introduced as a friend played ‘Deadliest Catch’ to me back in college, and despite disliking them to begin with I quickly changed my mind as I spent more time exploring their albums in detail. So why do I answer this question with ‘conflicted’? I’ve thought about this a fair bit and I can’t quite grasp it. They’re the sort of band that I feel I’ll always be a fan of in some respect, purely down to the hours I’ve put into listening to their music, learning to play their music, and watching them live (they must be one of the bands that I’ve seen the most, maybe second to Gnarwolves?). But I feel quite disconnected in a sense. It’s not that I don’t like the direction of their new music; it’s more that I simply don’t feel like their target audience anymore. It’s like Lower Than Atlantis moved on from me.

The band has really evolved through these last ten years. I wasn’t there for the start, but a simple Google search will uncover the long lost recordings of their first EP Bretton, which sounds so distant from their current sound as they tease their way into their fifth album Safe In Sound with singles like ‘Boomerang’, ‘Had Enough’ and ‘Work For It. I don’t think it would be unfair to describe the vocals throughout Far Q as rough and throaty with an understanding for melody, but without the (technically) ideal delivery that you may hear on their more recent releases. This layered over frantic guitar riffing and an abundant variety of discords, worked into some unconventional, but not too unfamiliar song structures created a charm that really captured my attention. This vocal critique may sound like a negative, but it was a blend that worked oh so well and really suited the general lyrical perspective of the album.

World Record follows on with a similar style and outlook, although with a more polished production. The delivery each song seems to match Far Q in terms of energy but there’s now a new kind of clarity on offer, alongside that grit that the first album oozed. The opening track ‘(Motor) Way Of Life’ expresses this exactly; strange time signatures, discords, ‘band life’ lyrical content, catchy riffs and choruses, but with that finer production. Radio worthy, right? Looking back now and comparing the first few albums, it seems like a perfect transition between Far Q and Changing Tune.

Here’s the tough bit. I adore these first two albums, but from here on out my love fades to some extent and I seem to enjoy each new release just a little less that the last. Even as I write this though, the conflict returns. My mind asks “why are you saying this – you love LTA”, and its right. I listen to Changing Tune and the self titled Lower Than Atlantis album from time to time and have been quite enjoying the new singles, but there’s a kind of nostalgia that I’ve created around Far Q and World Record that can’t really be matched for me.

Changing Tune offers a wider variety of song styles and tempos; it’s now much more accessible to a new listener compared to the two previous albums (unless they’re into the gritty shit). The production once again has improved, and Lower Than Atlantis at this point are a band that are getting their fair share of radio play, they now even offer music that you don’t have to stage dive to. The message throughout this album is more consistent than what has been heard before which is articulated well in ‘Go On Strike’; Lower Than Atlantis don’t want you working a job you hate, or living for something other than what you love. This seems to be a progression from album #1 which could be summed up with “we’re in a band and it’s tough, we don’t earn a load, but we love it”, to album #2 where although not so concise throughout, the penultimate track “Working For The Man By Day, Stickin’ It To The Man by Night’ begins to form and redirect the notion of taking control of your life towards the listener (specificity the bridge). Following this, in album #3 Lower Than Atlantis have effectively achieved the basics of what they were striving for, and hope to influence their fans to do the same with their own passions.

This leads me to the self titled album, Lower Than Atlantis. I’m so torn here because there are some great tracks for me; ‘Here We Go’ and ‘Ain’t No Friend’ open up and both offer powerful melodies with either sweet riffs or moments of intensity beneath, which could almost be classed as a throwback when compared with many of the other tracks. Although to be honest, I think for me I just didn’t believe that songs like ‘Emily’ or ‘English Kids In America’ were written for any other reason to draw in a new crowd of younger, typically not-so-well-versed-or-interested-in-rock-band types. I just didn’t trust it and used it as an excuse to shun the majority of the album. Of course there are some great songs in there; a load of great bridges too, something that suggests some real effort as gone into the band improving their own brand of song writing.  But the majority of the album just doesn’t cut it for my own taste, too many songs strayed too close to bland radio rock and the lyrical content became vague and almost cliché in places. I am a fan of The Black Edition re-release which offers a second disc of alternative versions, fun covers and a couple of extra presumably B-side releases to keep you entertained, so that’s a positive.

Finally, based on the singles released so far I get the feeling that the new album Safe In Sound will be a great step forwards on from self titled. Mike’s clearly been working on his voice and the seemingly spontaneous and playful upper range jumps are something I’ve not heard before but have really been enjoying. There’s an electronic presence throughout ‘Boomerang’ that ties in nicely with ‘Ain’t No Friend’ from Lower Than Atlantis, ‘Work For It’ offers severely detuned guitars (and we love that) as heard in ‘Normally Strange’ from Changing Tune, and ‘Dumb’ sounds like a grown up and more honest version of the pop styled tracks found within Lower Than Atlantis.

At this point there isn’t much more to be done than be patient and wait, I’ll be listening it on the 3rd of February and I’m super excited for this new album. At first I wasn’t at all, I didn’t care. Then I was, but later forgot all about the new singles and almost moved on. Conflicted, I told ya. But after one full decade of releasing albums, Lower Than Atlantis still have my attention, and plenty of credit is due for their releases so far.

Here’s five Lower Than Atlantis tracks that I’m into, take a listen.

‘No Belts’ from Far Q

  • This song stands out to me for a few reasons, but mainly because it’s such a great narrative on how the band loved the uphill struggle of putting their lives into Lower Than Atlantis. It’s a little insight into how things could be so uncomfortable and so close to falling apart, yet despite this they live for it. There’s a real sense of momentum, driven by the rhythm section absolutely powering on, plus those gritty imperfect vocals and odd chords provide plenty of interesting textures too.

‘High At Five’ from World Record

  • ‘High At Five’ offers vocals that you can’t help but want to join in for, opening up with “on the way home, I’m over thinking thoughts, being thought again/ trending topics are romance, finance and friends”. Perhaps it’s just that these were relatable when I first came across the song, but there’s an honest simplicity in there that I feel speaks to us listeners. I’m also a real fan of the guitar production and adore how it blends into the following track ‘Uni 9mm’.

‘Normally Strange’ from Changing Tune

  • In ‘Normally Strange’ Lower Than Atlantis switch up their sound to some extent and introduce a seriously detuned guitar, tastefully. There’s a heavier groove and a whole load of kick drum which provides a nice contrast to what we’ve heard before on the album. This track is also super self reflective, and Mike Duce tackles this vulnerability with his favourite writing tools – wordplay and oxymoron’s. I particularly love the Changing Tunes live session, I’ve included it below.

‘I’m Partying’ from Lower Than Atlantis (The Black Edition)

  • I came across this track well after it was released but quickly grew to love it, it’s really upbeat and the chorus is pretty catchy. There’s some playful lead guitar lines throughout the verses and while it’s definitely meant to be uplifting, there’s once again a sense of honestly with lyrics like “I’ve got some mates, but I’ve not got any friends”.

‘Boomerang’ from Safe In Sound

  • On my first (and maybe second/ third) listens through this I couldn’t get over the intro, I wasn’t into it. More repeats and I managed to place it in the greater context of the song and began to enjoy it. I mentioned above that it just feels more genuine when compared to the singles from the previous album Lower Than Atlantis. There’s no hiding that it’s still a far reach from the early albums, but with this song I feel that I no longer need to keep reaching for what used to be. There’s definitely a great deal of thought that’s been placed in the harmony of the track and those odd vocal intervals up high are pretty great aren’t they. It’s one of my favourite tracks to listen to right now and I feel that’s a perfect place to be at while waiting for the new album.

I’d be interested in hearing your own favourite tracks, so let us know below. If you’re feeling this post please share it with anyone you think would appreciate it!

Listen to the ‘Normally Strange’ Changing Tune live session below.

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