If skipping town in a cross-country skid from Brooklyn to San Fransisco with a mobile photo booth in tow doesn’t sound like fun to you, then you need to get out more. Specifically, you need to get out more with Low Water, the latest band to earn Culturespill’s distinction of “Best Band You’ve Never Heard Of.” Fresh off of filming the video for their new single, “Sister, Leave Me,” for which they dragged a photo booth across the country and implored the nearest bystander to step inside and sing on camera, they’re taking it to the streets with an upcoming third release called Twisting the Neck of the Swan; and judging from how effortlessly their music stands up to the hype, they just might bank with this one.
Continuing their breezy brand of simple and stripped down pop rock that marries Spoon and The Long Winters in a musical brew they can call their own, “Sister, Leave Me” plays like a reliable follow-through on the trio’s established glories, a back-to-basics rock ‘n roll that awakens you to just how desperate you’ve been for a band that’s not afraid to sound this real. Think Hot Hot Heat without the adolescent frenzy. Cowboy Junkies with balls. A long-overdue musical retort to Wilco’s 1995 debut, AM. In other words, think a really fucking good band you need to hear NOW.
We’re admittedly stretching the rules for these guys, though, because all sorts of people are hearing about them these days. The Pittsburgh Gazette: “Gritty post-Replacements rock with style and substance.” Amplifier Magazine: “Bridging modern Americana with rock ‘n roll out of the garage.” The Davis Enterprise: “Elevated above your average Emo rock . . . tasteful guitar playing, subtle humor, and masterful and clever wordplay.” Origivation Magazine: “Beautiful. Just beautiful.” Hell, they even got their own spot on NPR’s All Songs Considered recently. You don’t get much bigger than that. Er, OK, maybe you do–but they’ll get there too. And in a big damned hurry.
Low Water: “Strange New Element”
For a band that vows to “write . . . solid unpretentious songs that reflect where we’re from,” it’s no wonder some people find nothing more to say other than “beautiful, just beautiful” in futile attempts at putting into words the miracle this band puts to tape, reduced to the inarticulate wonder of a drooling infant (I’m raising my hand.) The flawless pop-rock gem “House in the City,” a tune you can check out on the band’s myspace page, opens with a meaty and irresistible crunch of guitar. By the time Johnny Leitera’s laid-back vocals transport the song to some Sunday afternoon on a backwoods porch with a fatty and a can of moonshine, the song locates an unlikely bridge between punk and alt-country under a hard rain of influence that never obscures the band’s vision. Collapsing into a lo-fidelity jam worthy of the Black Keys–though not quite that low-fi–a syrupy burst of synth sweetens the tune on its way to a sparkling and vaguely grungy close.
Yet no single flourish of the band’s deceptively nuanced sound clutches you by the throat to throng you in their desperate genius; they’re that rare young band that knows how to let the music speak for itself, delighting in an unassuming restraint they ride through every song with the unwavering confidence that drives a great Neil Young album (most of their material offers a composite of Comes A Time and Zuma.) As far as Johnny’s concerned, though, Low Water are “a rock band of the same mold as The Kinks.” While we’re always leery of bands with the balls to boast a resemblance to The Kinks, whom we at Culturespill believe is the greatest band to ever grace a rock ‘n roll stage, the comparison isn’t entirely hyperbolic.
They may not be producing work of such lyrical mastery as “Waterloo Sunset” or “Shangri-La,” but they do write songs of enough quality for one to suspect that these guys have read almost as much as they’ve played. In a musical climate dominated by teeny-bopping Emo-bots who swoon over a Ben Gibbard lyric only out of ignorance of the covering cherubs of songwriting that paved his path forty years ago, that’s a welcome change of pace. And Johnny’s homage to those aging angels of rock is clearly more substantive than boastful, as he acknowledges an ambition not just to return to the sound of The Kinks, but also to embody the literate ethos they brought to rock ‘n roll. “I wanted to convey the blue-collar, working class aspect of the band,” he says of their name, “Low Water is a slang term from the ’40s for not having any money. It’s amazing how that’s proven to be appropriate,” he elaborates. Amazing indeed–both in song and in spirit–how closely this band comes to encompassing the hard-nosed paradox of indifference and empathy that rock ‘n roll was founded on.