There are a lot of critics who will tell you that making an evocative pop song is getting increasingly difficult due to the advent of new technology in the recording industry, but all it takes is a subtle, low-end groove and a tempered, airy vocal matching up in the first stanza of “Palisade” for music enthusiasts like myself to become entranced by the wicked, raw melodies that LowRay have to offer in their debut album Friends and the Fakers. Friends and the Fakers isn’t a black and white pop record by any stretch of your imagination. It’s a blistering amalgamation of neon punk, jangle pop, Americana and avant-garde rock that introduces the world to one of the most fascinatingly designed duos in the contemporary underground.
The trio of “Lonely Tuesday Night,” “Let Me Be” and “Sooner or Later” would have stood strong as the sole contents of an extended play in their own right, but on this album they act as a crucial mechanism of exhibitionism for the relatively unknown LowRay. “Lonely Tuesday Night” toys with country rhythm, “Let Me Be” doesn’t back down from R&B swing but instead embraces it with open arms, and “Sooner or Later” is a classic rock jam reimagined as a stripped down alternative gem. There’s bits of Americana everywhere we look that aid in the smooth fluidity of the tracks, but nevertheless the diversity in these songs is impossible to deny.
In my opinion the centerpiece of Friends and the Fakers is its straightforward, vividly crafted lyrics, the best of which can be found in the rollicking title track and the zealously experimental pop of “8 Track Tapes.” The former is a hit in my book because of how intolerant it is of metaphorical fluff – singer Daniel Fowlds could care less about beefing up his mystique here; he prefers to express himself without any barriers between us and his emotions (which automatically makes this song feel more authentic than what’s been dominating the charts lately). “8 Track Tapes,” on the other hand, generates its magic through its willingness to be an outsider. The lyrics are plaintive and strong, yet they would be less meaningful without the intrepid complimentary music that backs it up.
Friends and the Fakers is produced so crisply and with a clean distinction between the instruments and their players that even when Fowlds attempts to dirty up the harmonies with his colorful riffery (mainly in tracks like the magnetizing “Waiting for You” or “Western Song”), every intricate detail is still on full display for our examination. It would have been really frustrating were this not the case, as LowRay provides us with a ton of tiny moving gears to analyze in each of these songs, which tend to play out more like mini-symphonies than they do radio-ready jingles – which isn’t a bad thing at all if you ask me.
The climax of Friends and the Fakers comes in its closing track “There’s a Place” which ties together all of the minute, Americana-inspired accents in a singular tour de force that brings us full circle and puts the emphasis squarely on the soulful chemistry that is clearly natural between Fowlds and drummer James Irving. LowRay are definitely onto something good with this formula that they’ve worked out in their debut album, and I’d really be interested to see how they expand upon the template in future records. There’s so many ways they could take this sound; they could get spacier and dive deeper into their psychedelic side, or they could trim all the fat and make the most of their insatiably catchy melodies. It’s up to them, but I’ll be awaiting their next release with much anticipation regardless.