In Essential Albums our favourite artists dig up five records that they consider “Essential” by any definition. This week, Copenhagen post-punks Lower discuss the albums blast both in the tour van and outside of it.
When I ask Lower's guitarist Simon Formann about authenticity and honesty in his band, he abbreviates me. Honesty is what concerns them. "The most important thing is not trying to slur the expression with external, unpersonal devices," he says. "There's no persona besides the one we carry through every aspect of our lives. We're trying to avoid a construct, another persona to take care of. There are a lot of great personas, [but] within the genre of Lower, it would not work."
Assumed he's being honest about that honesty, what are Lower presenting us with on their debut album Seek Warmer Climes? A blood-stirring committal to the call-to-arms echoed on their Walk on Heads EP and "Someone's Got It In For Me" single, the low slung and forward march that enlisted contemporary punk revisionist Elias Bender Rønnenfelt of Iceage and (formerly) Vår to issue layered praise for their first show: "It was almost annoying they could be so good."
The cutting force of vision is reinforced by the eclectic choices for Essential Albums, from Formann and Anton Rothstein, Lower's drummer. They reveal in the face of admittedly rigid, unyielding music, that beneath the tank letting go round after round, there lies a group of people keeping it going.
Oasis, Be Here Now (1997)
Simon: One of my earliest memories of a rock band that wasn’t funny. It wasn’t like Green Day or The Offspring, [it was] like a serious rock band. I remember the music video for “Stand By Me” as one of the visual memories of music. When I was 14, I had a girlfriend and there was this rival who tried to pick her up and was a bit older than me. He fucking loved Oasis and had his hair cut like them, so I had to hate [Oasis]. I had a falling out over nearly ten years with that record, then last year when I had to paint my apartment I started listening to it again and realized how good it was.
What makes it essential?
The mixture of the extremely long songs, the cocaine-infused air of megalomania, continuing the songs forever. For me it’s a bit more subtle than the two first records. "I Hope, I Think, I Know," we’ve been listening to the most. The feeling in it makes you want to be a hooligan, like "fuck the world."
What else were you listening to around this time?
Suede, the hit record Coming Up. Mostly just the British stuff at that point.
Have you listened to any of Oasis’s subsequent albums?
I think I was 10 years old when Be Here Now came out. My father bought it for me actually. Then he bought me Standing on the Shoulder of Giants. I couldn’t get into that. [Be Here Now] is good music for driving in a van.
What’s some more good van music?
We listen to Gas, a German techno producer. A lot of the Rhythm & Sound stuff from the Basic Channel and Chain Reaction guys, also German. We listen to a lot of hip-hop as well. The record I’ve been listening to the old Future album a lot, Pluto.
Roxy Music, Flesh and Blood (1980)
It’s positioned between their earlier stuff and later stuff so it carries both the theatrical and the subtleness and smoothness, the silky texture of the later stuff and Bryan Ferry solo stuff. A very nicely combined record.
Your band also has a pretty specific aesthetic. Is that important?
Yeah, in a very high degree. It would be kind of mindless to me if you had a product like music, that isn't in a physical way for people to receive it, and you didn’t pay attention to that packaging. It’s always like appearences, the first impression. It colours what the product really is.
Do you feel that something gets lost in the downloads of your music?
Ehh, I hope that if you get it digitally there’s still going to be some sort of photographic experience that comes with it. If you listen to the songs that come with it on YouTube, the music videos.
Loren Mazzacane Connors, Long Nights (1995)
I had this very good friend who was very into Warp, all the British electronic music, the scene from where Autechre came. He was the person who I bonded with over music with seriously for the first time. We listened to a lot of everything. A lot of guitar folk from the ‘60s, and there was this wave of folky psychedelic stuff going on around that time.
I’m the guitar player in the band, and that’s a record consisting solely of guitar playing. Extremely beautiful and inspirational, and concise, only about an hour long. If you’re only playing guitar, that’s something everyone should aspire towards if you want to be ambitious [laughs]. He’s done things with Thurston Moore and Keiji Haino.
What musical lessons do you take from that album?
There’s a lot of overtones and a lot of blended sounds. Electrical, but it's full, even though it's only fingerpicking. Kind of like trying to braid a carpet of sound where you can feel the different textures and patterns in one sitting when you play. You fill a space up.
Leonard Cohen, New Skin For The Old Ceremony (1974)
Anton: It’s not my favourite album by him, but Adrian who sings in Lower, we’ve talked about how warm it is. There’s two aspects of it: the musical aspect is like a recreation of his more lonely guitar based stuff, and the new direction where he experimented more with a band. At that point he had been touring with his “Army” for some time, and expanded the musical content a lot. So this was a new standard for him.
The songs are like rhapsodies almost, some of them. It took a brave turn from his more repetitive stuff. The most famous song on the record is “Chelsea Hotel #2” and that’s the one that sounds most like the old stuff, so it’s not the song I would highlight from it.
From there it was a turning point. He collaborated with Phil Spektor, on a record he had no control over almost, and from there it gets weirder and weirder.
Have you been a lifelong Leonard Cohen fan?
It comes in waves. When I was a boy I never listened much to him. In my early teens it struck me. There were so many records to listen to, his discography is quite vast, and many of them don’t sound alike at all. For a long time I only listened to the first three, but you grow tired of it even if it was a bit timeless.
Simon was talking about how important it is for Lower to make something honest and truthful to real human experience. Leonard Cohen never felt like he was needlessly flowered his experience in his work. It always feels very real.
With Leonard Cohen he disguises the truth in stories that he didn’t necessarily experience. But me and Adrian also love the way he sneaks irony into his lyrics. In another interview we were doing we mentioned him and the interviewer said “That’s some sad stuff!” But that’s not necessarily what it is though. Of course there’s some really depressing stuff, but even in the most grey songs, there’s some sarcasm. Humour plays a huge part in his lyrics. In generally I really like him, the only one I don’t really like is Ten New Songs. It had too much Sharon Robinson.
Autechre, EP7 (1999)
Simon: It’s another record that’s been with me since I was younger. From hating Oasis that much, I got into the habit of forcing myself to listen to stuff. At some point you figure out there’s not only good music or bad music. So listen to whatever you want. So long as you like it, you gain something from it personally.