Lowercase Noises – Passage EP – 88%

Passage cover art

Andy Othling might be one of my favourite guitarists of all time.

Bedroom musician Andy Othling — who goes by the musical pseudonym Lowercase Noises — has spent the better part of the last four years pouring his heart through his guitar and into the souls of any internet-goer patient enough to listen. Not one to shout about himself, Andy lets the beauty of his gentle, wistful passages do the talking. The music of Lowercase Noises is guitar-based ambient/post-rock that is as calming as it is heartbreaking. I’ve never connected as strongly with the sound of a guitar melodiously swirling as I have done with some of Lowercase Noises‘ past works. Some; not all.

Lowercase Noises was birthed as a YouTube project — a series of one-take ambient recordings based around Andy; his guitar; and an incomprehensible number of delay and loop pedals. The simplistic and floaty nature of his music was something with which I could wholly identify; conjuring sensations of loss and love that I had thought were long behind me. These recordings were compiled and released under the title ‘Ambient Songs’; a collection of recordings that to me revealed itself as one of the most touching and honest ambient releases I’d ever heard. Lowercase Noises is at its most powerful when a silent dialogue is made between the listener and Andy’s sole six strings. It’s breathtaking.

Sometimes though, I find that Lowercase Noises strays too far in the direction of post-rock, using synthesised drums and computerised elements akin to outfits such as The American Dollar or Arms and Sleepers. Such aspects take away, I feel, from the organic, emotional force that (I thought) could only be conveyed by a man and his guitar. As such, full lengths ‘Seafront’ and ‘Carry Us All Away’ often escape my interest. These albums are beautiful in their own right, but are slightly hampered by a constructed, mechanical quality that leaves me wanting. Given recent leanings towards a more toned-down, minimalistic approach with ‘Migratory Patterns’ (a concept album about a lone-roaming whale) and ‘Vivian’ (written in honor of Andy’s newborn baby daughter), I was hoping that Lowercase Noises‘ new EP, ‘Passage’, would satisfy my longing for a strictly guitar-based ambient masterpiece. Was this naive of me?

Yes. Who am I to claim to know what it is that I want from a musician? What makes Andy Othling an artist — and such an inspired one too — is his ability to draw sincerity and elegance from venues unconceived of by I or anyone else. ‘Passage’ makes the most of the banjo, harmonium, cello and keyboard; as well as assorted (real) percussion and, of course, the guitar. This is the most complex exploration into fresh sonic territories thus far attempted by Lowercase Noises, and yet it also appears to be the most refined and comfortable of all of his releases. I was surprised to find myself so captivated by the deep, layered composition of tracks such as “Prevailing Winds” and “Passage”. This man is not just a brilliant guitarist; he’s a phenomenal composer and multi-instrumentalist. With the inclusion of the banjo in particular, much of ‘Passage’ is more upbeat than many of Lowercase Noises‘ previous offerings, but when executed as perfectly as it is here that’s nary a bad thing. There are moments that recall the slow, airy ambience of earlier releases (namely “Beauty into Wreck”), and these balance the EP as a whole, nicely complementing the more experimental movements.

I would not forgive myself had I failed to give a special mention to the second track on this EP, “Roaring Forties”; and particularly cello-player Shannon Harden. From its unassuming opening, this song’s endearing keyboard, pensive guitar-work and glorious strings slowly assemble themselves into one of the more memorable compositions released so far this year. A drenched, repeated electronic motif (I don’t even know what to call it) chirps in the background as you’re eased into this song, and the same sound holds your arm while you’re led floating outside of yourself during the track’s final moments. There’s something about that noise — never skipping a beat — that leaves me with a feeling of true fulfillment. I felt something akin to this when I first heard Hammock‘s “Ten Thousand Years Wont Save Your Life” earlier this year. “Roaring Forties” is breathtaking.

Outside of the second track, a part of me still hopes to feel that connection that I felt when I first heard “Ambient Song #10”; something that moves me in a way that no other music can. I didn’t quite get this with much of ‘Passage’, although what I did get was a wonderfully enveloping experience that was nothing like that which I had expected. The music here is more intricate than ever before, meaning that there’s more to discover, and more reasons for it to grow on you as you attach yourself to each new sound. If you’ve loved everything that Lowercase Noises has released up until this point, then there would be no reason not to love ‘Passage’. Even if you haven’t, you’ll still likely really enjoy this.

Available for $5 or more at Bandcamp: http://music.lowercasenoises.com/album/passage