“…Call Me Ishmael”


The Whale, 2014

Review Kent Manthie                                                                 the-whale-cover

Over the past four years, Seattle’s Lowlands was born (2010), then broke apart (2012) and again, came back together for a new birth of sound that has been evidenced on their latest CD, The Whale, an album that was recorded in 2014, but whose songs the band has been playing in live shows since 2013. Why I’m only hearing about it now, I don’t know, but maybe it’s finally getting that “breakout” they so needed.

On The Whale, frontman, Tom Rorem wrote a slew of new songs, with some of the music and complex arrangements, atmospherics and textures created by bandmates, Ben Jahn, William Mapp, Steve Miller (no, the other one) as well as Alex Huth.

The band has a gift for creating a diversified repertoire; a band whose sound, to which various musical labels won’t stick. The stuff that Rorem and co. have put together for The Whale is a wonderful potpourri of genre-bending, bi-polar ups and downs. The music’s antipodal force builds up tension and then, cathartically releases said tension through a mixture of apt lyrics set to music played with a real passion that, besides the lyrical themes, also releases its own “voice” or “messages”; music that resonates in a way that really hits you right in the gut (but not too hard).

One of the more popular songs on The Whale as well as just a damn good song, is “Passionate Soul”, a song whose title is also very apt at capturing the essence of the parts which make up the whole song: a song about love, longing, yearning and burning, with a mellow, but simultaneously…well, passionate, for lack of a better word and that passion really comes through. It doesn’t take a loud, heavily produced album with swirling guitars and a kind of “tilt-a-whirl” sound that just spins you around, at least (somewhat, anyway) metaphorically. Another good song worth noting here is the title track, which, I think, smartly captures the heartbreak one can feel when suffering an immense loss, whether it be a relatively long and, yes, passionate relationship or the loss, through death of someone special in one’s life: a longtime close friend, a lover who succumbs, far too early, in many cases, to some kind of ravaging, terminal illness. The name of the song, “The Whale” can be thought of as a good metaphor for that feeling of loss, that broken-hearted sadness; the pain from something like that can be so powerful and so heavy a burden to shoulder that “Whale” is a perfect symbol to use for it.

Anyway, The Whale was recorded in October of 2014, at Jupiter Studios, with Martin Feveyear producing. The foundation of the album was the rhythm section: the percussion and the bass, whose tracks were laid down first and on top of which the rest of the music and the vocals were layered. Their goal was to record an album that had a distinct sound but also was not limited in scope, but has a wide ranging depth and breadth. -KM.


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