Sound — 8
Lower Than Atlantis is an alt-rock band from the UK. The band's album sales and, ostensibly, their popularity come mostly from Britain. Since releasing their first album in 2010, the band has slowly but steadily made its way up the UK and Scottish album charts. First week sales of this album were high enough to make it the band's first to crack the top ten.
The opening track, titled "Had Enough," does a great job giving the listener a sense of the rest of the album. It starts with a crushing hard rock riff before switching to a soft verse that includes electronic drum samples that intermingle with the normal kit. Mike Duce's vocals also have a shimmery effect laid on top. The clear message is that this album will mix hard/alternative rock traditions with some pop sensibilities in order to make it more radio friendly.
With any album that tries to be radio friendly there comes the risk of being repetitive. And certain aspects of the album are definitely repetitive. Seven of the ten songs on the album are between 3:00 and 3:30 in length. The songs are almost all the same in structure (verse-chorus-verse-chorus-bridge-quiet reprise-chorus) and there are no guitar solos. So what does Lower Than Atlantis do to make their listeners feel "safe in sound?"
The biggest thing they do is to vary the dynamics between songs. Some songs are hard whereas others are soft. The way they accomplish that though might be different than how a band would normally do it.
When I played in a band, dynamics revolved around literally striking the instruments harder or softer. It could also refer to playing with the guitar volume on one... basically doing anything to make the collective volume of the music move from low to high and back again.
Lower Than Atlantis, however, keeps the volume nominally at the same level throughout. Instead what they use are different studio sounds. For example, they'll vary the tones on their guitars to have pounding distortion one song but then a clean chorus effect on the next to sound thin and airy.
Another nice thing is that the musicianship is solid across the album. Lower Than Atlantis never dilutes the music to make room for vocals or anything else. Of course, there are the dynamic elements mentioned before. But even when the instruments are playing at a lower level of intensity, they are still worth paying attention to.
There is always something interesting going on underneath the surface to entertain the astute musician within all of us.
Lyrics — 7
Nevertheless, because of the album's radio bent, Mike Duce's vocals are too important to ignore. And he doesn't disappoint; Duce does a great job on the mic. To begin with, almost all of the choruses on the album are catchy and memorable. Further, he varies the intensity of his vocal delivery across the album to keep everything sounding fresh. It's also nice that he sounds natural regardless of how he's singing; nothing sounds forced to fit a specific scenario. The only thing that feels off with the vocals is this little effect that makes them sound shimmery. I can't tell if it's an interesting harmonizing tool or a chorus effect or just plain old autotune, but something just isn't right about it.
Lyrically, this album isn't much out of the ordinary. Songs about girls, breakups, drinking... all the normal rock stuff. Duce doesn't really attack any topic in a particularly poignant way, but the light lyrics allow the album to retain its party-like atmosphere throughout.
Overall Impression — 8
In total, this is definitely an above average alt-rock album. It has a nice mix of harder rock songs with ballads that doesn't get boring. That's not to say the album isn't predictable; it's very predictable.
But, it still has charm. It's like an AC/DC album. For the most part, you know the song structures, the chord changes, and the lyrical content going in but you still listen to it and you still love it.
That's a rare thing, a significant accomplishment even.
There isn't a particular element of this album that stands out, but at the same time it's really good. I keep coming back to listen to it out of pleasure, not just to do it the due diligence that a reviewer should do. This album is fun to hear out of an iPod but it would also be great to hear live; it can really get your heart and mind moving if you let it.
Give it a shot. You might be pleasantly surprised.