There’s seemingly two kinds of bands in this world. The first is the happenstance group that just so happens to find each other –a few people who were all looking to play a certain genre, notice each other’s talent, and then go from there. The other has a history –old buddies who jam together, maybe start their own projects, but always jam together. The latter band is organic and fueled by a certain kind of chemistry. There’s something special there.
If you’re a fan of Starflyer 59 or Pedro The Lion –then you’ve probably already heard, but I’ll dish out the good news anyways. Lo Tom is a project composed of four different musicians from either band; David Bazan, Trey Many, Jason Martin, and TW Walsh. Now this isn’t a lazy mash-up, each member has managed to spend at least some time with the others in past projects. Lo Tom’s self-titled debut reflects just how good a band can be when formed so organically.
When the album kicks off with “Covered Wagon,” the strong percussive hits let you know you’re in for something good. Alongside each building guitar line, the vocals sneak in –a beautiful balance. The song builds with energy in a rapid manner. Each instrument seems to maintain a simple enough line –each piece of texture comes together coherently and makes for a great, indie-rock listen.
A couple tracks later and Lo Tom follows up with, “Bubblegum.” It’s decisively dimmer, the guitars are more distorted –less involved. The vocals sound like a tired out howl. The juxtaposition demonstrates Lo Tom’s versatility. The song continues on in a grunge-like fashion. Each transition between sections is seamless. It’s rather impressive, but still there’s something missing.
Lo Tom is really too good for its own sake. Something about the debut album feels over-polished and lacking the sort of chemistry and excitement that would come from four friends with such a strong curriculum vitae –or maybe it’s the preciseness that one would expect…
Granted, indie rock doesn’t need big guitar solos or complex composition to make it interesting. Often, the sentiment wrapped into each twang of string and interwoven through lyrics is enough –and Lo Tom covered themselves there. Heavy hitting tracks like, “Bad Luck Charm,” are moving and swaying –really masterful. The problem is that the album just doesn’t offer anything to really make the knees weak. No blockbusters and nothing so memorable to revisit the album again.
Does that mean Lo Tom dropped the ball? –of course not. The band is fine, they did great; it’s just difficult to believe that Lo Tom will stand out as its own project. It’s a great first stab, but if the musicians behind Lo Tom want to differentiate the band as something more than just a side project, and if they really want to earn the title of ‘supergroup’, then they’ll need to crank something more powerful out.
Let’s get back to the good –the self-titled debut is really well polished. It’s glistening so brightly that you should be thankful it’s music, you don’t have to stare, just listen. Lo Tom’s eight tracks are diverse and articulated well. Each part seems to meld together with the next rather nicely. As a result, getting from start to finish is rather easy –the band will keep you hooked for each upcoming track. Impressively, numerous tracks meet or cross the three-minute mark, yet seem to blaze buy.
Ease of listen matters a lot, and the fact that Lo Tom mastered this may earn them flocks of new fans. In particular, “Overboard” and “Pretty Cool” both managed to capture the band’s high points. The former is the second track, the latter –the second to last. “Overboard” is really what one would expect from an album like this. The guitar kicks off with an easy line of chords that add a melancholic sentiment. The vocals take a minute to really settle into their best, but between the chorus and follow-up, line, “It just takes a while for me to un-feel a thing,” the track manages to strike your heart like an iceberg and send you overboard. It’s not overly moving, but surprisingly catchy. Counter this with the more dismal sounding, “Pretty Cool,” and the long term potential for Lo Tom’s success really begins to show.
“Pretty Cool” starts like a dreary Radiohead relapse. The vocals drag their way through repeating, deep guitar lines. Percussion cools itself down for a brief moment to help build the dismal atmosphere. “Talk on the phone every night,” the lyrics float across the top of a deep bass line –strengthening the foundation of the song. “In through your nose and out through your little mouth” –the song’s meditation comes to an end. The last third repeats every building moment with intensity and then drifts out.
The final track, “Lower Down,” rides on the mellower sentiments of the preceding track. The song closes on what feels like an incomplete jam session –but only incomplete in so far that it leaves you wanting more. Overall, Lo Tom generated an excellent indie album, and if you’re a fan of the surrounding literature; Pedro The Lion or Starflyer 59, then the album is a must listen. Alternatively, fans of bands like Soul Coughing or similar 90’s indie meets rock endeavors will be well pleased. Lo Tom’s self-titled debut is an interesting blast from the past with big promise.