Lower are misunderstood. In their five years together, the Copenhagen band has released only one EP—2012's Walk on Heads—and two 7-inch singles, one of which is a split with Iceage. So far, that's all anyone knows about the band, but it's a limited picture.
The four-song Walk on Heads EP is an invigorating, if harsh, introduction to the group, a series of brief, lo-fi punk songs exploding with energy and distortion. It's short, but it leaves an indelible impact.
But Lower don't really sound like that anymore—not exactly. In June, they'll release their long-awaited full-length debut, Seek Warmer Climes, via Matador Records, and it's likely to catch some listeners by surprise. There are few moments of moshpit mayhem or full-blown noise-punk outbursts. Its sound is more atmospheric. Its songs are longer. And more often than not, it sounds like an entirely different band.
In a Skype interview from guitarist Simon Formann's apartment in Denmark, singer Adrian Toubro says the group made a conscious decision to depart from their harsher, earlier material.
"We definitely tried to move away from that kind of coarse punk sound that existed on the Walk on Heads EP," Toubro says. "In a way, I still wouldn't say that Walk on Heads was typical punk music, but it definitely had some of the characteristics of punk—way more than this new record has."
With Seek Warmer Climes, Lower have made a progression from chaotic hardcore to an artier, tempered post-punk style. It's not so much that they've completely abandoned their punk instincts; they've just channeled them into a broader palette of sounds. Toubro, Formann, bassist Kristian Emdal and drummer Anton Rothstein have delivered an album that's more about mood than a visceral, aural assault.
On first listen, that mood seems pretty dark: Joy Division, Magazine and early Sonic Youth are all close analogues to the approach the band takes on the new album. (The band also cites what Formann calls David Bowie's and Roxy Music's "soft, sexy lounge sound.") But, lyrically, Seek Warmer Climes tells a much different story. On the urgent opening track "Another Life," Toubro's lyrics ("Now it's time to change," "Strive for another life") reflect a desire for self-improvement and a motivation to embrace a more positive direction. That sentiment is echoed in the album's title, which is taken from a line in its last song, "Arrows."
In their earliest songs, Lower had a more openly pessimistic outlook, and it's a reputation that continues to follow them. In 2012, Rothstein told Pitchfork that Lower are "not aiming for joyous or sunny tunes." And that might technically still be true; for Toubro, however, that doesn't mean their songs need to be bleak.
"We talked about how we might want to leave behind some of the negativity," Toubro says. "It was more pessimistic, the first songs we made. And we might have been inspired by other things than we are now.
"People, journalists always talk about this dystopian, cold sound that evokes angst," he continues. "But I would never praise those kinds of emotions or mental state. It's not for me."
It took a long time for Seek Warmer Climes to end up sounding the way it did. In fact—and this is where it gets a bit ironic—Lower began writing the songs for the album well before they even released Walk on Heads. Toubro and Formann say the album took about three years to finish, but it happened in various phases. When they began, there was a much looser approach, and they took their time to piece the parts of each song together. It was only after they ended up connecting with Matador Records that the process accelerated in the home stretch.
"It took some time. It was a long process," Toubro says. "When you start out, it's just—you perhaps are more relaxed with it than trying to figure out how serious it should be."
"It was definitely more intense at the end of the process than it was at the beginning," Formann adds.
Lower have a month's worth of touring ahead of them, which will give U.S. audiences a chance to hear the album before they can drop the needle on it. But with Seek Warmer Climes finished and nearly ready to be unleashed on the listening public, Lower are already looking ahead to the next album—and plan to have its songs written before they board a plane to the states.
"We're trying to make the most of our time right now and maybe have enough songs to record the next LP at some point within the year," Formann says.
"We have more of a clear idea of how the next thing should be," Toubro adds. "The important thing is that it never wanders into a standstill, and we'll never just try to make the same type of music."