One of the UK rock acts that seems most poised for a breakthrough are Oxford based indie sophisti-pop act Low Island. The quartet have established some credibility through some EPs and successful singles and have now matured to debut studio album mode, with their first full-length LP If You Could Have It All Again recorded and released independently through the band’s own label Emotional Interference. Some of the band’s most successful singles “Don’t Let the Light It” and “Who’s Having the Greatest Time?” feature on this record, which offers a gratifying combination of funky, retro synth rock.
If You Could Have It All Again is an extremely dynamic record, particularly on its very diverse first leg, presenting a cocktail of influences from ‘80s post punk to ‘00s post rock. The album does eventually settle into itself after “Don’t Let the Light In (Reprise)” with the album’s textures levelling out into a mixture of funky basslines with expressive, dramatic vocals. The production steals the show throughout with Felix Higginbottom’s pristine drums and thick elastic basslines and watery synth tones from Jacob Lively, arranged with precision and scale by producer Jamie Jay. Even the vocals from Carlos Posada ring proud as a bell despite their fragility and treatment. There is a degree to which the songwriting still feels immature though, with many songs feeling rather too predictable and not cutting to the bone with their melodies or lyrics.
The album opens with “Hey man”, beginning with a repetitive bleeping synth chord refrain that builds to a strident climax punctuated by sporadic rattling drums, with Carlos Posada’s fragile falsetto vocals creating an airy elegiac atmosphere that makes a tasty contrast with the rigid snapping percussion. Eventually the two meet in the middle as the song builds to a huge, cacophonous climax that sadly ends abruptly, sacrificing a solid transition into the next track “What Do You Stand For?”, which offers a huge contrast.
This track has more of a punk edge than anything else on the record, featuring mixed fidelity recording with extremely clean drums but muffled vocals and grimy bass riffs. Something about the conscious lyrics and the treatment of the vocals when combined with the hard-edged riffs gives this song an almost Idles quality. Their wry approach to the lyrical themes and songwriting is more reminiscent of LCD Soundsystem though, sounding almost like a more surface level version of something one might hear on This is Happening. It’s certainly the hardest rocker on the album with politically charged lyrics condemning shallow and performative engagement with activism. Nowhere on the album though are the vagaries of the track cleared up, making the song feel more inwardly directed as a commentary on the groups own insecurities about failing to commit to as essential a part in world progress as we often feel we ought. I’m always on the look out for a version of Idles without lyrics that make my toes curl, and though this doesn’t quite fit the bill, it is still a jazzy, melodic piece of noisy punk music. It certainly feels like a refreshing outlier on the track list but Low Island make a surprisingly credible fist of the genre.
The following cut is the group’s most successful single to date, “Don’t Let the Light In”, a synth-heavy ‘80s-styled chamber rock piece with a surefooted, glimmering bass groove that’s shockingly danceable, with gleaming yellow chords intruding into its purplish haze. The track sounds not unlike the recent solo material of Hayley Williams, with a smooth and pristine take on an almost house inflected rock sound. Low Island are taking their cue from In Rainbows-era Radiohead (which is the best era of Radiohead and don’t let anyone tell you different) but like Williams, their take on the sound is more accessible and groovier than Radiohead ever were. The single here comes with a part two in the form of a stripped acoustic reprise; Posada’s falsetto is still drenched to the bone in reverb though, making an odd contrast to the spartan instrumentation.
Many albums tend to slump immediately after the halfway point, but Low Island seem to have been careful to avoid this by making this three track run a home for the album’s singles. Therefore fans get hit with a run of familiar tracks just as interest could threaten to wane. It’s an effective strategy that flies in the face of what one usually expects. “Who’s Having the Greatest Time?” is the gaudiest and campiest moment on the record with a baroque David Byrne level playfulness that equal parts grating and playful. This is followed by another case of a rather jarring and abrupt transition into the following track “Feel Young Again”. It’s a considerable contrast with the preceding song being so up-tempo and this one having such a sombre intro. The track does rebuild that energy though via some voluminous and anthemic synth chords.
“Feel Young Again is about a toxic relationship; not with a person, but with a part of yourself that you need to let go of.”
The band seem to be channelling Viva la Vida era Coldplay somewhat on “I Do It For You”, presenting their version of a big pop anthem, transitioning from its weepy minor key opening to its call and response chorus. The whole articulates a sense of disappointment in a relationship one is putting more into than they are getting out of, the track eventually resolving by disappearing into a zippy whirlpool of electronic sound. Introducing the final leg of the record, “Momentary” presents a tone almost verging on ambient for a good proportion of its five-minute length, with only the bare vocals dominating the mix. The track develops slowly into an expansive and glamorous indie rock crescendo supported by a choir of reverb-soaked backing vocals.
The album’s closer “What The Hell (are you gonna do now?)” reads as a slow, intimate quarter-life crisis anthem. The track balances austerity with texture magnificently but its stiff and very one note groove, composed of a very loud drum loop and a simple bassline, does get a little wearing before its conclusion and could have used some more variation or progression. It does wrap up the album’s themes of self-questioning and celebrating victory over one’s insecurities nicely though, leaving the listener on a cautiously optimistic note for the future.
Like many premature bands, Low Island do somewhat struggle to escape the shadows of their influences, not quite coming through with a solid personality of their own. Nonetheless, their accomplished musicianship handily carries them throughout their debut, with each band member contributing skill and force to their performances, with the professional and captivating production hardly belying their DIY credentials. It will certainly be intriguing as to whether Low Island will carve out a niche for themselves as a potent act in the broad church of UK indie pop, but their demonstrated ambitions so far have proven them to be well within their reach.