Review & Track Premiere: Lowrider, Refractions

Lowrider Refractions

[Click play above to stream the premiere of ‘Red River’ from Lowrider’s Refractions. Album is out Feb. 21 on Blues Funeral Recordings with preorders here.]

Peder Bergstrand on “Refractions”:

“’Red River’ has been with us since maybe 2001-2002… It’s the first riff we wrote for our second album, we even recorded it in 2003 — but it just one of those songs that needed to mature to become what it was intended to be. It feels so right that it’s the first one out of the gate from this forever-in-the-making album, and it couldn’t feel more like the perfect amalgamation or Lowrider then and Lowrider now. Absolutely STOKED to share it with you.”

Then and now, it is an elite class to which Lowrider‘s work belongs. Few single albums have helped steer the course of the European heavy underground to the degree of their MeteorCity-issued 2000 debut, Ode to Io (reissue review here). Along with fellow Swedes Dozer, as well as Colour Haze, Orange Goblin and a select group of others from around the continent, they helped pave the path of the emergent stoner rock scene at the turn of the century, taking lessons from California desert heavy and inherently bringing something of their own to the creative process that more than a generation of bands has learned from in their wake. Two key differences between Lowrider and those other bands who made such a mark at the time: they were very young and they only did the one record. Both are crucial when it comes to understanding how their first full-length in 20 years, Refractions — released through Blues Funeral Recordings — manages to sound so vibrant in its 41-minute front-to-back.

Comprised of bassist/vocalist Peder Bergstrand, lead guitarist/vocalist Ola Hellquist, guitarist Niclas Stålfors and drummer Andreas ErikssonLowrider‘s youth gave Ode to Io an imitable energy, and with Refractions, in “Red River” and “Ol’ Mule Pepe,” that original, vital spark is honored and expanded upon in a way that’s mature but by no means “old-sounding.” That is, as much as one might and probably should consider Refractions a “comeback” album, Lowrider do not come across in pieces like the organ-laced second cut “Ode to Ganymede,” the eight-minute side A finale “Sernanders Krog” and the 11-minute closer “Pipe Rider” like old men trying to recapture past glories.

Rather, the great triumph of Refractions, which also saw limited issue last year through Blues Funeral‘s Postwax vinyl subscription service (and for which I had the honor of doing liner notes), is to acknowledge the accomplishments Lowrider made two decades ago but not be restrained by them. This is where the fact of their only having been one prior full-length comes most into play. Lowrider had a couple other releases — a 1997 split with Sparzanza (discussed here), their 1998 split with Nebula (discussed here) — but their legacy and influence was localized almost entirely in Ode to Io, and that essentially set that record up as a monolith in time.

One record. And they were basically kids. Bergstrand was a teenager.

It doesn’t even seem fair. How could a modern incarnation of Lowrider possibly be expected to live up to such a standard? Refractions meets this question head-on. It does not shirk the responsibility Lowrider have in following their debut — and that may have something to do with why it’s coming out now when their reunion began at Desertfest some seven years ago — but it shows that Lowrider are different people than they were at 17 or in their early 20s, etc., and it brings new character and breadth to their craft that is more progressive than one could have reasonably hoped.

lowrider (Photo by Anna Liden Wiren)

In particular, Bergstrand‘s time fronting the pop-tinged melodic rock outfit I are Droid — whose underrated 2013 second LP, The Winter Ward (review here), still resonates — doesn’t seem to be forgotten, and even as “Pipe Rider” builds its forward wash of fuzz leading to the jam that will carry Refractions to its finish, its vocals deep in the mix bask in a melody more complex than anything Lowrider have done previously. That song is twice-over pivotal to Refractions, since its lyrics directly acknowledge the central task of the album in carrying forward what the band were into what they are: “Give me something new…Fragments from our youth,” and so on (that’s a point I raised in the liner notes as well, but it applies just the same).

And preceded by the instrumental pair “Sun Devil/M87,” the finale’s arrival is all the more an occasion on a side B, expanding on the lushness of “Ode to Ganymede” in tone and depth while finding its own course much as Lowrider themselves do all across the album, whether it’s the hooky nod and crash — I’ll just say outright that Eriksson‘s drums are a highlight unto themselves across the entire span of the record both in what he’s playing and the production value — of “Red River” or “Ol’ Mule Pepe” with Hellquist taking the lead vocal spot on the latter. At five minutes long, that brash rocker is paired well as the side B leadoff counterpart to “Red River” opening Refractions as a whole, but its vibe is even more of a standout for drawing the clearest line between the stoner rock of Lowrider‘s past and the heavy rock of their present, manifesting the Kyuss idolatry that fueled the band’s early work into a shuffling riff that’s righteous in its genre familiarity even as they take ownership of it.

Especially with the turn into “Sun Devil/M87” afterward, one gets the impression that even as Lowrider know the formidable task they’re facing, they’re still unafraid to have a good time here. It doesn’t all need to be a serious we-put-out-a-very-important-record-20-years-ago museum piece. It’s still rock and roll. “Sun Devil” is a wah-solo-topped blast, and “M87” picks up at the divide with a bassline from Bergstrand that sets a fuzzy course of pulled notes hypnotic in their repetition that end up a perfect lead-in for the closer, which again serves to mirror its side A counterpart in “Sernanders Krog” while at least in part telling the story of what Refractions is intended to be and what it means to the band. These are central moments for Lowrider, and they make it obvious on all six tracks that, while they know that Ode to Io means a lot to a lot of people, the best justice they can do to that album is to leave it in its place. So that’s what they do. Beautifully.

Refractions has been thus far received with a considerable amount of album-of-the-year-type hyperbole. Though it’s early in 2020 for such assignations and with the prior Postwax release, I admit I’m not sure if it counts as 2019 or not (or if it matters), but as a fan of Lowrider‘s past accomplishments, I can’t disagree with the excited sentiment around these songs. The album succeeds in every way in bringing Lowrider into the present and finds them indeed reflecting on the past, but refusing to lose themselves in it. As an entire generational shift has taken place in terms of audience over the last 10, let alone 20, years, Lowrider reestablish their place among heavy rock’s most momentous purveyors. If their new album is an occasion, it is one to which on every level they live up.

Recommended.

Lowrider on Thee Facebooks

Lowrider on Instagram

Lowrider on Bandcamp

Blues Funeral Recordings on Bandcamp

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Blues Funeral Recordings website

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7 Responses to “Review & Track Premiere: Lowrider, Refractions

  1. Josh says:

    Been waiting 20 years for this (I got the Postwax version last month). So worth the wait! Welcome back Lowrider!

  2. jose humberto says:

    Its great great great!!!! :)

    I was kinda mad for the delay but im loving it

  3. Jace says:

    Wow,fucking spectacular! The build up is so so so so sweet! Beautiful heaviness!!!!!! What a Hella group of mates! Wow!

  4. Nate says:

    Sounds badass, can’t wait to get the CD

  5. TEAM HOSS says:

    Just so good to hear that heavy Lowrider tone again! Sounds kickass! The Remaster sounds fantastic! Red River rips! Been waiting a long ass time for this! Can’t wait to hear the rest! If you guys tour in the US or need a opener we would be honored to be a part of it! WELCOME BACK!

  6. […] Says LOWRIDER: “Red River has been with us since maybe 2001-2002… It’s the first riff we wrote for our second album, we even recorded it in 2003 — but it just one of those songs that needed to mature to become what it was intended to be. It feels so right that it’s the first one out of the gate from this forever-in-the-making album, and it couldn’t feel more like the perfect amalgamation or Lowrider then and Lowrider now. Absolutely STOKED to share it with you.” Check out new single « Red River » right here […]

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