Stoner Rock as a genre really took off in the late 1990s when an avalanche of bands inspired by Monster Magnet, Fu Manchu and especially Kyuss’ efforts to fuse 70s groove with 90s heaviness descended on an unsuspecting world. For reasons I’m not even going to try and fathom, the dusty desert sounds seemed to strike a particular chord in Sweden, where a statistically significant portion of the population decided it was high time to dig out some flares, tune down and drop out. That first wave included a ton of awesome bands, but if you were to conduct a poll to name just one that really exemplified all that was good about Stoner Rock at the time I reckon Lowrider would come out towards the top.
What struck me when I was preparing this review was that Lowrider, for a band that is still so highly-regarded, really didn’t record much music at all. There were splits with Sparzanza (1998) and Nebula (1999) plus an album Ode To Io the following year, all released by MeteorCity, and that was basically it before the band split in 2003. Another thing that I hadn’t realised was how young the members of Lowrider were – lead singer and bassist Peder Bergstrand was still a teenager when they recorded their only album.
Although Kerrang! frequently went out of their way to dismiss Lowrider as Kyuss copyists (when considering what weight to give their opinion, bear in mind that this was the same period in which Kerrang’s reviewers gave Kelly Osbourne’s first album the same K rating as Dopethrone), Ode To Io quickly established itself as a classic of the genre. Such a classic that when the band reformed for Desertfest in 2013, they played to 1,500 people in a rammed Electric Ballroom off the back of that single thirteen-year-old record.
So after a gap of twenty years, Lowrider are back with their second album Refractions. Music journalists (you know, proper ones who get paid to do it) often harp on about how second albums can be difficult – can a band maintain the facets that made their debut good, while progressing? Given the length of time since Ode To Io came out and its legendary status, you might think that Lowrider were set up for an epic sophomore slump. Well, I’m pleased to report that isn’t the case: Refractions is an excellent album. On it, Lowrider sound like a band comfortable with their musical legacy but also keen to show their musical growth over the previous two decades.
The album kicks off in style with Red River. I read on The Obelisk that this track was actually written back in the early 2000s and the band got as far as recording an early demo of it before splitting up. That made a lot of sense to me because as soon as the drums kick in, it’s inimitably Lowrider locking straight into that desert groove in a way that few other bands could. The production is thick and heavy, the song itself is excellent, and the whole thing oozes Stoner Rock cool.
…as soon as the drums kick in, it’s inimitably Lowrider locking straight into that desert groove in a way that few other bands could. The production is thick and heavy….and the whole thing oozes Stoner Rock cool…
Next up, Ode To Ganymede is perhaps even better, both epic and somehow melancholy, and also redolent of early (as in pre-Rated R) QOTSA. When the organ kicked in I was struck that it would make a truly excellent closing track for an album, but it works well here too. I was less taken with the third track Sernanders Krog. Although it isn’t awful by any means and starts off promisingly, I ultimately found it directionless and a bit too long.
Ol’ Mule Pepe puts any thoughts of a mid-album lull quickly to bed by upping the fuzz and delivering a proper old school, head-nodding stoner stomp. It would sit comfortably alongside the heavier and more direct cuts Caravan and Convoy V from their first album. Fifth track Sun Devil/M87 provides another clear nod back to the past, taking the short acoustic interlude Sun Devil from Ode To Io and reworking it into a heavy instrumental. Nothing ground-breaking, but nicely done.
For me, Refractions keeps the best till last and finishes on a high note with Pipe Rider; eleven minutes that neatly encapsulate everything you might want from a sprawling album-closer. Centred around a simple guitar line, it’s melodic (Bergstrand’s vocals on this track reminded me quite forcibly of Dave Grohl at several points), and captures that same feeling of epic melancholy that crops up throughout the album. It manages to be insanely catchy (I can pretty much guarantee you’ll be humming this one after your very first listen), heavy, and emotionally satisfying all at once.
Refractions isn’t a flawless album, but as a follow-up to Ode To Io it doesn’t disappoint – no mean feat given the level of expectation surrounding it. It has exactly what you’d want from a second album: Lowrider still sound like the band that helped to define the sound of a genre, but perhaps a little older and wiser. More importantly, it delivers some seriously good tunes.
Scribed by: Liam Blanc