- Mon, 2011-04-18 11:50
Though only known to the world for three years and with only two releases under their collective belt Lower Than Atlantis have already established themselves as an unpredictable but highly promising band. Their eight-track Bretton EP, released in 2008, portrayed them as a hardcore punk band cut from similar cloth to Gallows, but 2010’s debut album, Far Q, saw them add a hefty dose of melody to the equation and smooth off some of the sharper edges. Though widely considered to be a successful first album, many critics still considered the band to be a couple of steps away from the finished product, and in need of a more defined sense of identity. A little over a year later the boys are back with their follow up, World Record, and ready to show onlookers just exactly who they are.
It is immediately obvious that the band’s departure from their hardcore roots has continued to accelerate since Far Q. The angular riffs are all but completely absent, though there is a remnant of the band’s harder edge to be seen, particularly in Marilyn’s Mansion and Bug, a pair of whirlwind punk songs that come in at under two minutes, recalling B.O.R.E.D. in their brevity. Despite the abrupt, apathetic ending of the first and the second’s rowdy gang vocals, however, neither quite convey the menace that B.O.R.E.D. does, let alone deliver the body-blows that No Belts or Down With The Kids did.
More symptomatic still of the band’s movement towards a mellower sound is the greater incidence of clean guitar work. While Far Q delved into softer dynamics just once - on the beginning of Mike Duce’s Symphony No.11 In D Minor - World Record does so several times. R.O.I. follows that song’s lead, starting out life with cleanly strummed chords before entering heavier territory, and High At Five segues into Uni 9mm with a subdued series of ringing, undistorted chords and an anguished intro vocal. Another Sad Song is the most placid of all, slow of pace throughout and only turning to distortion for a final reiteration of the mournful chorus.
It is the album’s first single Beech Like The Tree that provides the stylistic blueprint for the majority of the album. There is still room for riffing, but it is riffing of a far less complex order than once it was, and more often than not it is a feature of a landscape made up predominantly of chugging, palm-muted power-chords and intricate lead guitar licks. Duce’s vocals are almost exclusively sung – bearing more than a passing resemblance to Days Of Worth’s Simon Ellis Griffiths – allowing his ear for a catchy melody to spill over into the verses as well as the choruses.
With the musical aesthetic more settled it is left to song structures and lyrics to provide some of the novelty that stylistic variety once supplied. Fortunately both fulfil this role as required. The band demonstrate more of an instinct for nuance, making their individual instruments work harder through a greater use of dynamics, a willingness to use a melodic figure just once within a song, and a series of well-crafted breakdowns that appear right across the album. Lyrically Duce covers similar ground to previous songs, offering a bit of social commentary but sticking largely to relatable stories about everyday life and personal experience. Sometimes it comes across as a bit tired or mundane, as on the ode to tobacco Up In Smoke and Could You? Would You?’s complaint about a mate’s new girlfriend. Mostly, though, Duce’s turn of phrase imbues the commonplace with a novel charm, as on Deadliest Catch’s central hook: “I know, I know, they say there’s plenty more fish in the sea, but that girl’s the best catch in 50,000 leagues.”
It seems inevitable that Lower Than Atlantis will suffer a degree of backlash with the release of World Record. Once hailed as a band following in Gallows’ footsteps, their new album will kill all such comparisons dead, and perhaps leave some fans disappointed as a result. However, if it is judged on its own merits rather than placed in competition with its predecessors, the album stands up as an extremely solid and entertaining example of British punk rock. The song-writing is adept, the playing flawless, and the melodies abundant and memorable, and that’s enough for us.