Low Ceilings Self/Titled (2017)
There’s a soft spot in my heart for well-produced home recordings. As a songwriter/home-studio engineer, I find something intimately special is captured in such an environment. Music is a lot of things, but most importantly, it’s a moment in time. Songwriters can frequently revisit those moments in time through the wonders of live performance, but they can never truly recapture a specific moment laid to tape. There’s a certain magic about it that is inexplicable to anyone removed from the process.
Low Ceilings clearly has a knack for capturing those special moments, churning out songs that somehow sound intimately lo-fi and carefully polished all at the same time. From the get go, you’re greeted to a pair of songs that contain lines like “all the moms are wearing purple shorts” and “nighttime, light ends / all the bugs they are my friends” respectively, which seem totally random out of context, but somehow mange to come off as endearing. The two openers slightly overstay their welcome, clocking in at 4 to 5 minutes each, but serve as a perfect introduction to the band’s songwriting expertise led by vocalist Ben Mueller’s Colin Meloy-esque drawl.
Next up is album highlight “Get Upset” (a perfectly placed, simple folk song that could easily be on the soundtrack to an indie coming-of-age film – take note, Zach Braff) followed by the short “Near Me, I”, which immediately gives you the feeling you’re listening to an Alt-J demo, before they gradually add in layers and layers of incredibly well-structured Beach Boys-esque harmonies. Stylistically, it seems rather out of place in the middle of the record, but at the same time, it makes perfect sense for a band that describes themselves as “acoustaprog freaky folk.” It’s a testament to their talent that they are able to do something this quirky without coming off as pretentious.
Touching on the odd self-proclaimed genre mentioned above, it’s hard not to wonder if they are taking themselves too seriously or not seriously enough. My gut tells me the latter; the sophisticated songwriting and masterful arrangements are top notch, but every once in a while you’ll come across something like the beginning of “Re: Squash” which will make you scratch your head. Despite all that, the eight songs on this sophomore release would not be out of place performed on a stage with the Avett Brothers or the previously alluded to Decemberists. (And they should be.) So, maybe their genre term of choice isn’t important when the best description of their sound that I can think of is simply “authentic.” In case you needed further proof of that, just listen to the fantastic album closer “Never Intended,” a love song that demonstrates Mueller’s got some Donovan in him whether he knows it or not. “And I don’t even know about the dial tone / And I don’t even know if I care / You know I never intended to lean on you / But I lean on you everywhere” he sings in the record’s final moments, captivating the listener in such a way that it’s unclear whether you’re hearing a song about love or one about heartbreak. A flawless end to a tremendously impressive record.
RIYL: The Decemberists, Belle and Sebastian, The Avett Brothers