Musicians that hail from the Nordic countries are often saddled with the expectation that they make grandiose, ethereal and expansive music. Lowly, a new five-piece from Denmark, met at art school in Aarnhus – not the most rural or isolated part of Scandinavia by any means. Nevertheless, hearing the opening ascending synths, wide-open female vocals and plenty of atmospheric additions on the first track ‘Still Life’, you’re immediately transported to an iceberg, slowly drifting out in the freezing ocean.
Throughout their debut album Heba, Lowly are always presenting their music through a wide-angle lens, as there’s so much to take in. The songs often revolve around stark, sharply-produced female vocals, from which Lowly prove that they have a knack for creative-yet-natural progression. Songs like the aforementioned ‘Still Life’ or second track ‘Deer Eyes’ start focused on a forlorn face, and gradually zoom outwards to see all the natural sparkle and wonder dancing around them, rendered through stuttering percussion, sky-reaching guitar lines and absolutely sparkling synthesizer imbuement.
The quintet sets out their stall with a tight rhythm section that is inventive but not showily so. Rather than hold down the groove, the bass and drums set out a glistening, frost-covered playing field on which the rest of the band can frolic in creative twirls and accents. The drums are always clicking about with an under-the-radar freneticism, that adds an urgency to proceedings even when the vocals and synths are unfolding in a more lethargic manner. On songs like ‘Look At The Sun’ and ‘Word’ it feels like we’re inside the head of singer Nanna Schannong, who’s seeing the world move around her in slow motion, while inside her thoughts are whirring at a million miles an hour. The way they play with the rising and falling of their naturalistic sound on ‘Prepare The Lake’ brings the psyche at work into even sharper focus.
Lowly capably balance the delicately tense moments with instances of unwinding. In ‘Stubborn Day’ it sounds more as though Schannong has laid down flat on her back, staring at the sky, as her body breaks into pieces and slowly floats apart into an archipelago of limbs. On following track ‘Pommerate’, a short track that makes great use of negative space, it sounds as though the spare guitar is pulling her back together again. This then leads into the strongest track on the album, ‘No Hands’, where bending atmospheric guitars and bleeping radar-like synths describe something akin to sailing under the Northern Lights, making you feel so small, but as the song blossoms into its powerful conclusion you’re filled with all the affirmation of life that you could ever desire.
The name Heba is taken from the Arabic for “gift,” and it’s a perfect title for this album. It is a gift to listeners, sure, in its vibrantly wrapped, pristinely presented manner. But moreover, Lowly make it clear throughout that they look upon life and all of its intricacies as a gift, and they have translated that wonderment and thankfulness into a beautiful ode to the world on their debut album.