If you’re to believe what you read (and not require a mythology to accompany your listening material), then you would think Lowlights to come from Humboldt, California, the town they call home. But upon listening to their haunting, spectral Americana, it would seem that they actually come straight from a ghost town. When a band writes melodies as eerie as those on Dark End Road, it’s hard not to believe. And the wandering troubadour on the inside sleeve is depicted as dark figure with a large hat, holding a skull, all but sealing my theory.
Unlike a typical country album, this one starts with ambient whirrs, like dust blowing across a deserted street, before a gently strummed banjo begins “The One I Love Is Gone.” Singer Dameon Lee’s voice seems to be broadcast from a CB radio in the most desolate stretch of California’s Central Valley, and the vibe of the whole thing is liable to give you the heebie jeebies (my spellchecker doesn’t seem to recognize this word). Not a spur, saloon door or broken bottle of sarsaparilla is to be heard. The creepiness does subside temporarily during the more upbeat title track, augmented with galloping drums, piano and some fiddlin’. It’s still dark and in a minor key, but it does pick the mood up a little, and makes for a damn fine tune.
So, if you haven’t figured it out yet, this isn’t a typical alt-country album. It certainly carries the same themes of loneliness and melancholy, but without much of the rockabilly rave-ups to offset the sadder songs. And yet, Dark End Road doesn’t need them so much. “The Way You Were” is quiet, but powerful, hitting an emotional string that a power chord likely couldn’t. The Whiskeytown-like “Emily” is more upbeat in melody, yet retains the band’s atmospheric tendencies, with weeping lap steel and Lee’s quiet rasp. Psychedelic vocal effects drive “Ride,” one of the album’s best songs, and “Drive Thru” actually finds the band using some loud guitars and delay pedals, taking a moment to glaze over their eerie textures with some good old American rock `n’ roll.
It takes some time to “get” Lowlights. After all, a band that starts their album off with a haunted, bare-bones ballad certainly isn’t concerned with immediate accessibility. Funny thing about Lowlights, however, is that, mysterious and dark they may be, they’ve got some great songs up their collective sleeve. They even rock when they want to, but only moments later, they’ll sink back into the shadows from which they came.
Whiskeytown – Strangers’ Almanac
Castanets – Cathedral
Calexico – The Hot Rail
Jeff Terich is the founder and editor of Treble. He's been writing about music for 20 years and has been published at American Songwriter, Bandcamp Daily, Reverb, Spin, Stereogum, uDiscoverMusic, VinylMePlease and some others that he's forgetting right now. He's still not tired of it.