Leading with a low, organ-esque hum and trailing with pretty, plucky guitar chords that conjure images of foggy moors and unrequited love, you’re welcomed into the lyrical blue heart of super sappy indie rocker, Low Roar and his self-titled debut album released on Tonequake Records.
Icelandic transplant via San Francisco, Low Roar (aka Ryan Joseph Karazija) set out to make an album that reflected on the giant change of scenery he had made. His end result is an album that brings the melancholy mood of homesickness to an icy and idyllic prose.
At first listen, I can’t help but think of moody, woe-is-me singer/songwriters such as Bright Eyes, Elliot Smith or Nick Drake, but unlike my favorite depressive go-to boys, Low Roar lacks that little somethin’ somethin’ which those other musicians so eloquently possess. Where Elliot’s raw vocals pound, Low Roar’s only tap. While Mr. Oberst’s guitar naturally waltzes, Low Roar’s steps are forced. And when Nick Drakes haunting melodies leave you floating, Low Roar brings you back to reality — and who wants that? Granted, I am comparing him to arguably three of the most epic creators of the genre of emotional rock (some hard shoes to fill), but at least he tried.
The sound is less organic then I would like. The electronic zoom of the harmonies don’t match the true beauty of the simple and sad lyrics. I feel alone in electric loser land — like a young poet exiled from the bohemia of the real world to some cold synth-toned prison, forced to learn the language of machines. After reading my own thoughts I can’t help but think to myself, ‘Ah-huh, that’s precisely what he is portraying.’
From San Francisco— home to hippie hill and the history of rock ‘n’ roll – to Iceland – land of moonless summers and sunless winters, must surely effect the musical influences of any traveling lad. Now of course I can’t say for sure, not knowing Karazija’s musical upbringing or technical background, but I think it’s safe to say one must feel the musical change from San Fran to Iceland. I find it quite cool when an artist has a concept behind an album – one single, concise thought that leads the work; even cooler when I can find myself honing in on that idea in an emotional way with only a sparse understanding on said idea.
Compositionally, the vocals are by far my favorite part of each and every song. It’s breathy and soothing, leading with long sighs of notes that fade out beautifully, weaving and winding while seductively wallowing in its self-mutilating glory. This trait is most beautifully featured on such tracks as “Just a Habit” and “The Painter.” Both songs capture a vibe of lonesome longing, the mossy keys taper ‘till your skin blooms with goose bumps and your eyes well with tears. The tone is so excessively depressing that it’s joyful. To quote Kurt Cobain: ‘I miss the comfort in being sad.’ Well, Kurt would be happy to know that with this album he’d be comfortable again in the familiar gaunt of sadness.
You can swim around all day in this pool of tears. It’s a kind of sound that although familiar, it’s refreshing to hear the same emotions from a different source. Low Roar’s voice is defiantly its own, with some tracks that are all folk, like beautiful duet “Rolling Over,” where the guitar is simple and his words poetic. While others have all the sample potential to make great trance-step remixes, (think “Nobody Else”), they all have one thing in common, and that is the sleepy stumble of Karazija’s voice with slow strings.
Over all I give this album three out of five stars, for its clean concept and Karazika’s powerful pipes. I can also say with certainty that I’ll be hitting up at least one of the three shows he will be playing in Los Angeles, with the first being yesterday (Monday, Nov. 7) at Hotel Cafe. He will also be at The Mint Wednesday, Nov. 9, and Lot 1 Cafe in Echo Park Thursday, Nov. 10.
Words: Jasmine Hickle