Roundtable Review: Lowercase Noises – This Is For Our Sins

For the April edition of our Roundtable Review we’ve chosen ‘This Is For Our Sins’ by Lowercase Noises, the moniker of multi-talented ambient artist Andy Othling. To get a better of understanding of the meaning of this album and it’s importance, Andy penned the following to us when we received our copy of the album for review:

“..this album is written about the Lykov family, who lived isolated in the Siberian wilderness for over 40 years. I’d highly recommend you check out this article about it. It’s an incredible story, and I think it will help you get more out of the album.”

As you might imagine the anticipation going into this Roundtable is that ‘This Is For Our Sins’  would be a much different experience than we’re use to from Othling. Without further ado..

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 I think I subconsciously put artists into boxes when I first listen to or stumble upon them. I’d like not to, but I think that’s what happens. There are the artists who have “made it”, and there are those who are still “bedroom” musicians. The lines might blur occasionally, with acts like Lights & Motion exploding on and beyond the scene despite humble beginnings. Generally though, I listen with different ears to music by Mogwai as I do to that of Good Weather for an Airstrike, for example. That’s not to discredit any of the works released under the bedroom musician’s name; I just find that it somehow affects the way in which I judge what I hear.

My point with this is that I have always kept Lowercase Noises in the little box, where my expectations for variety and studio polish are a little more forgiving. For this reason, the opening track of This Is for Our Sins caught me off guard entirely — I was blown away by the sophistication of what I was hearing. The album doesn’t sound like it was made by a “bedroom” musician (I cringe at my use of this term as the advancement of available technology moves to render such notation irrelevant); This Is for Our Sins is an extremely competent and professional piece of work, befitting any band of experience.

There aren’t any specific songs that stand out to me, but all serve to satisfy the senses. There is more outright rock here than in Lowercase Noises’s past — which I really dig — and I’d perhaps credit that to the novel use of live drumming. This kind of thing shows the real growth of Lowercase Noises over previous efforts. I also like that the second track reminds me so much of Sigur Ros, despite such familiarity. The vocals throughout the album are a nice addition, acting as milestones to track the progress of the album’s narrative. What surprised me the most is that I have never been bored by This Is for Our Sins, which is saying a lot for an album that is 60+ minutes of mostly-ambient, instrumental music. I don’t like that banjo though; sometimes it serves a purpose to lift the mood, but mostly it’s jarring. But don’t let that be a major deterrent. – Shooter

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I have no qualms with concept albums. In fact I really enjoy cohesive albums that do not sound like just a few songs put on disc. Luckily This Is For Our Sins feels like most of the tracks are united in the name of telling a story. However that story is not always the one about the Lykov Family who lived in the wilderness of Russia for over 40 years. No, it often slips into Northern Georgia with Burt Reynolds or even an evening with Michael Flatley!

OK, I am being facetious, but the first time that Banjo makes itself known in The Hungry Years I instantly thought of the banjo duel in Deliverance. I can see no place for a Banjo in a concept album based in Russia. Andy Othling has said (in a Reddit AMA) that it was used because “I didn’t set out to make Russian music. I set out to make music that expresses my own feelings about the Lykov family and tell their story in my own way.” Fair enough, but it doesn’t sit right with me and detracts from the overall power of the album.

I’ll explain the Michael Flatley comment now. The piano melody towards the end of album opener Death in a Garden reminds me of the melody from the hymn, Lord of The Dance. It does work with the track, but it does mean that I think of rows of Irish people shaking their legs about whenever I hear that part. The melody also returns in track ten, Prepare to Die, but Sow the Rye. It is something that takes away from the overall experience of listening to the album, simply because I associate it with something else.

After all that, what do I think about this album? Well I actually really like it. I feel that the first two tracks are the strongest on the album, which is a shame as it detracts from the other great tracks that are on there, but all the tracks are well composed, expertly produced and carry those Lowercase Noises’ trademarks (Volume swells, slide guitar, that bloody Banjo, etc.) without just being a rehash of previous works.

This is forward thinking Lowercase Noises; an ambient album that does not have to work hard to keep my attention like other ambient albums might. I really enjoy the vocal work, especially the end of Prepare to Die, but Sow the Rye; overall they help strengthen the concept. The additional musicians bring a lot to the table too. The percussion brings life to the tracks, especially Death in a Garden, which actually feels pretty heavy in sections, and I am a sucker for Cello and Violin parts; they are such emotive instruments and they really carry the album’s overall atmosphere.

This is a great album, but there are some elements that detract from my complete enjoyment. I have to applaud Andy Othling for putting this out; I think it is the strongest release that I have heard from Lowercase Noises. – TenaciousListening

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I’ve been a fan of Lowercase Noises’ work since he released his “Migratory Patterns” EP. In our house, it’s called “The Whale Album” and rightfully so. My whole family adores it, even my infant son falls asleep to its soothing tones.

Then “Passage” came out, and it was a step in a new direction. It had new instrumentation, a whole new feeling that he hadn’t explored before. From the accordion-like sounds to the banjo, it all fit together so well.

When I saw that Lowercase Noises had announced a new full-length album, I was absolutely ecstatic. If he could make amazing EPs, imagine what a LP would sound like! He said it’d be a conceptual album, based on the Lykov family, who had all died in the harsh Siberian winters. (Beautiful stories, by the way)

Now, when you think of a Russian winter, what do you think of? A harsh, unforgiving environment, surely. Lowercase Noises definitely thought the same thing, with Minor tonalities abounding, this is definitely another step in a different direction for Andy Othling, the one man band behind Lowercase Noises.

However, there is one major problem with the album. A Banjo. Every Postrockstar staff member has mentioned the overabundance of the banjo in this album, so I know it’s not just me who thinks that it doesn’t belong in this album. The perfect example of this would be in “Requiem”, which, at first, feels like a song about how you feel after all of the funeral attendees have left. You’re all alone, left with the bittersweet feeling of leaving someone you love behind, knowing that they’re in a better place… Until the banjo comes in. Literally every time I was really getting into the music, the banjo would make an appearance. Out of all the things you could picture about a Russian winter, a banjo isn’t one of them. It was a fun bit in “Passage” but he never should’ve thought about using it for “This Is For Our Sins.”

Tinny plinking aside, there are a lot of good things to say about this album. Andy’s always had a very firm grip on composition and layering, and this album showcases it just as much as any other album of his. The times I was getting into the music were very well done, and the production quality is superb. In one song I could actually hear the sound of wood striking wood as the piano was being played. This only happens on the highest notes, and it’s the best example of how well this was recorded.

Overall, I can’t truthfully say that I enjoyed this album. That Banjo would take me right out of the music every time it made a sound. It’s a serious issue when it comes to this album. It’s supposed to be a conceptual album, and I’m pretty sure the Russians didn’t have a banjo to play during the cold winter nights. I’m just glad I only pre-ordered the digital album instead of the $22 vinyl. – Foofer

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It goes without saying that this is a very important album in the career of Andy Othling. To date we’ve seen Andy, better known as Lowercase Noises become something of a virtuoso within the ambient kingdom. In the world of Melatonin simulating slow jams Lowercase Noises is absolutely the king of the jungle, the Mufasa if you will (that’s a Lion King reference, folks).

This album is important for his career because it is a bold departure from anything else we’ve seen in the past from Andy. And he’s not doing it alone this time either, as this album features eight other musicians lending their talents towards this magnum opus effort. What they’ve accomplished on this album is nothing short of impressive, making ‘This Is For Our Sins’ the most technically pleasing album in the Lowercase Noises discography. This album is glorious from front to back in nearly every aspect. The rich, vibrant cello work, the wonderful guitar tones, the sensual piano with just that itty bit hint of bass, and the vocals, well, they’re nothing short of these  heavenly heartfelt passages that garnish the rest of this musical feast very naturally and are surely going to be the most under appreciated part of this album.

Do you want to know another masterpiece ambient album that’s vocals went highly under appreciated? The 2013 effort of Olafur Arnold’s ‘For Now I am Winter’. That album is spectacular on every front and is the album I’m choosing to draw a direct comparison to as I try to convey to you just how magical ‘This Is For Our Sins’ feels to this reviewer. I’ll admit that even after a dozen or so listens and plenty of research on the Lykov family, I haven’t quite been able to tune into the conceptual side of this album.  But even if I still haven’t keyed in on the bigger picture that is being painted through the music, my ears are trained enough to know when they’re hearing something truly special, and that’s exactly what I feel as I listen to ‘This Is For Our Sin’ on repeat.

Just try to listen to “What Would There Be Out Here to Hurt Me” without feeling the music’s beauty. Try to tell me that there isn’t something magically triumphant about “The Hungry Years”. I dare you to listen to “Famine and the Death of a Mother” and not applaud the beautiful instrument arrangement and top-notch production values. There isn’t a single moment on this album that my ears dislike. This is an A+ effort through and through. Is this the peak for Lowercase Noises? I honestly have to believe so, because it’s going to take a truly remarkable effort to top this piece of art Andy Othling has created. A must listen that will absolutely be on my year end list. Oh and one final thing; Never stop playing that Banjo, Andy — It’s a signature sound that I love (sorry guys, gotta oppose all the banjo hate) – James

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You’ve heard from us, now hear from what others are saying about ‘This Is For Our Sins’. These comments were taken from the chat during the album’s world premiere live stream on youtube hosted by Andy himself.

“Holy Sigur Rós that was magnificent!!!” – kaleidoscopicFILMS 

“This is the highlight of my day – thanks Andy!” – Michael D.

“I’ve listened to your stuff all day and found myself staring our the window just reflecting on life…your stuff has a way of inspiring deep thought because it comes from a place of deep thought.” – Ken K.

“Andy, this album is the most beautiful stuff you’ve ever written.” – Taylor V.

“To me, part of the beauty of this music is that it sounds very different from your previous stuff but feels very familiar to me. great work!” Jim B

“Wow. This is beautiful! I love the use of vocals in this album.” – Josh W.

“This is absolutely breathtaking and overwhelming. In a good way, of course. You sir are incredibly underappreciated! This is divine” – ptasiemleczkogurompt 

“This is just spectacular Andy. I’m almost at a loss for words ..” – Matt T.

“Great work Andy! You have a great ear for arrangement, and interesting melodies.” Zac C 

 

tags: ambient drone experimental instrumental post-rock Albuquerque