“Sometimes I wish that I was more important / But I’ll be careful ’cause I don’t want to be different.” So sings Jake Balistrieri on “Cliffs,” the opening track of Soul Low’s debut LP, UNEASY. This self-assured introspection echoes throughout much of the material on UNEASY, a record that takes great pleasure in dynamics and stylistic experimentation. On “Cliffs,” the band pulses into bouncy verses before exploding into frantic pop screams and skittering polyrhythmic drumming reminiscent of early Animal Collective. On “Spooky Times,” the group pairs a moody surf-rock groove under an infectious vocal melody that’s sung in a Tom Waits-like growl. Two tracks in, it’s evident that UNEASY won’t be an easily classifiable album.
The guitar driven dance-punk on “Take Time” finds Balistrieri soaring above dramatic chord changes with quivering falsetto-vocal hooks that sputter into start-stop choruses. The result makes for a standout track. “Sitting By The Fire” finds Soul Low completely switching gears with a gypsy-punk strut that slides in and out of dark, chromatic guitar melodies and scream-along choruses that come to a halt before blasting into a driving coda featuring an excellent saxophone solo.
Released as a single a few months back, “Wake Up Pains” is a youthful anthem that sits near the end of the record, and is another standout track. The song opens with a head-nodding drum and bass groove before kicking into a verse that cleverly borrows the melodic theme from Blondie’s “The Tide Is High.” After an excellent group vocal chorus, the song closes with a final verse featuring a horn arrangement that wouldn’t be out of place on a Broken Social Scene record.
With all its experimentation, UNEASY manages to break through as a short, yet extremely satisfying debut. While Soul Low explores many different ideas and styles, its sense of song structure and attention to melodic detail make for an ever-intriguing listen.
Soul Low celebrates the release of UNEASY at the Borg Ward Collective July 13. A $7 cover at the door gets you into the show, as well as a copy of the album.