Low Man, Low Man: Rolling the River Down

Their sound is rooted deep in classic stoner punk, but Pittsburgh three-or-four-piece Low Man don’t necessarily limit themselves stylistically on their self-titled, self-released seven-track EP. Recorded as a trio with a slew of guest vocalists, the production on Low Man’s Low Man is rough, but still crisp enough to give a debut’s look at a band getting their bearings, and as drummer Derek Krystek, bassist Jeremy Zerbe and guitarist Luke Rifugiato all contribute vocals throughout in addition to the guests, the half-hour release has a surprising amount of variety from song to song. That doesn’t put Low Man in a position to establish much more than a cursory flow between the tracks, but with an EP, there’s less of that expectation at play, and all the more since unnamed closer that follows “Roll the River Down” is six and a half minutes solid of feedback and noise. Such a consideration puts the runtime song-wise at just under 24 minutes, but Low Man otherwise make decent use of their time, the initial push of opener “Migraine” reminding a bit of formative The Brought Low vocally while engaging in straightforward rhythmic thrust and upbeat classic rocking. Rifugiato proves early and often to be an engaging lead guitarist – if in fact that’s him; Zerbe and Jason Jouver, who mixed, and Justin Novak, who engineered, are also listed as adding guitar and it’s not clear who’s where – dropping layered solos atop the final stretch of “Migraine” and leading the charge on the subsequent “Golden Dawn,” which moves more into a classic-Pentagram-via-earliest-Witchcraft groove with a bluesy vocal to complement and easily the strongest instrumental hook of the EP. The guest vocals seem to come into play during the chorus, which rounds out with aggressive shouts in a bridge part leading back to one last chorus and a brief descending transitional progression that appeared earlier in the song, showing a nascent but nonetheless prevalent knack for structure that they carry into the faster chugging of “American Literature from 1860.”

Its central hook isn’t as strong as that of “Golden Dawn,” but “American Literature from 1860” is also coming from someplace else stylistically, proffering sans-frills garage punk with bite in the tempo and what feels like less focus directly on the arrangement. If Low Man are looking to set one side of their sound against the other, they paired up the two tracks to do it with for sure. I’d be interested to hear how the differences in sound – which presumably are the result of multiple songwriters, though all songs are credited to Low Man as a whole – might be carried across with a fuller production or more attention to the vocal recording and placement in the mix, but on “American Literature from 1860,” the idea is obviously to hone in on rawer musical ideas from the start. The shortest track at 2:53, it begins with a quick sample and then is off without giving the listener a chance to process what they’re hearing, a biker-style verse opening to a chorus that still seems unwilling to fully relinquish its tension. The post-chorus bridge locks in a groove quickly shirked off to go back to the verse and the cycle repeats – a basic structure echoing the straightforward  musicality to set up solos traded back and forth between the right and left channel. The jump from the solo back into the ending chorus is a little abrupt, but Low Man don’t really leave you time to get caught on speedbumps, and their momentum continues into the gang-vocalized “Pay the Bills,” made memorable with “heya-hey”s and an early ‘90s bassline. Here too the verse hook proves stronger than the chorus, but the gang vocals go a long way in keeping attention snapped to, and an echoing lead behind the vocals before the ending sample offers a bit of change from what the band has already managed to establish as their norm.

And with the de facto penultimate “Machine,” Low Man’s Low Man shifts gears once again into start-stop ‘90s noise rock crunch, incorporating a touch of grunge alongside some of early Helmet’s dissonance and leaving room for a well-rounded chorus and impressive tom fills from Krystek under slow wah swirl and an emerging chug that leads into the song’s final insistent verse. As they have all along, they end with the chorus, and “Roll the River Down,” which winds up nestled instrumentally between some of the brooding moments from the first Clutch album and something altogether more doomed, the vocals hold onto just an edge of Suicidal Tendencies circa The Art of Rebellion. If any or all of these comparisons might lead you to think Low Man carry a torch for the early ‘90s, you’re probably right, but that’s not really all they have going on. “Roll the River Down” doesn’t try for the same kind of hook as “Golden Dawn,” but is somehow in a similar vein anyway, more atmospheric and darker, still in motion with what turn out to be the EP’s best leads giving way to a final chorus and then onward to ringing feedback and the shift directly into the unnamed “secret track,” which, again, is noise the whole way through. It comes in layers, almost in movements, and in the midsection, even Krystek gets in on the action on drums, but essentially it’s just noise the band recorded when they finished the tracks for “Roll the River Down.” Krystek caps with a roll on his snare accented by his kick drum, a couple lazy cymbal and tom hits, and then the EP is over. The inclusion of all that noise after such an efficient run through the songs is an interesting choice, and I wonder if it might not indicate some experimental edge or level of abrasion the members of Low Man might try to work into their next batch of material, in whatever form it might surface, and if that’s the case, one also hopes they don’t lose sight of the impressive stylistic breadth they manage to present here, perhaps even meeting the challenge of taking those aspects of their musical personality and turning it into one whole sound uniquely their own. That might be a big jump to ask the band to make, but there’s nothing on Low Man that makes it seem impossible.

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