ALBUM: Lowland Hum
ARTIST: Lowland Hum
Album release date: April 2015
Unassumingly Weighty / / Refreshingly Buoyant
Lowland Hum is Daniel and Lauren Goans, hailing from the mountains of NC. The married duo have been creating music together since their debut release Native Air in summer 2013, making their mark as a distinct pair of minds and voices in the folk music scene. Lowland Hum, their third project, was released in 2015. I picked up a copy of it after seeing them perform at a festival in the Shenandoah mountains at the beginning of September: their set was beautiful, and their persons intriguing. Lauren was quick to let me know that this album is “much more produced” than their other projects, but that it gave a good depiction of a “part” of their approach to music.
In the vein of artists like Bon Iver, the Weepies, Sufjan Stevens and First Aid Kit, Lowland Hum (both the duo and their eponymous sophomore album) is a listening experience of alternately lush and hushed frequencies. Acoustic guitar – the corner in which all folk-musicians weave their web – is surrounded by electric bass (and guitar), piano, synth, omnichord, ambient percussion, rhodes and copious vocals. Melodies are at turns straightforward to the uninitiated ear, and at others they require multiple listens before they become tactile to the mind.
Thankfully, the instruments never overpower the two interwoven voices, which remain dream-like and urgent throughout the entire album. Her voice is clear and child-like (“It pierces like a bell,” my husband whispered during their live performance); and his voice is low, calloused by memory and song. His deeper register acts like a constant inlet for her fragile ebb and flow.
Refracted, Remembered, Renewed
Philosophical and spiritual overtones and themes – nuanced and given to multiple interpretations – make up the emotional palate of this album. The songs toe the line between being engaging and unique, and possibly being taken as too esoteric and/or experimental. We are given glimpses, tastes, tones and sensations – but not much elucidation. This is a collection of private, wistful songs given in shards and blooms, ala Terrence Malick. Still, though – the sense of these songs being drawn from a place of genuine depth and experience is evident throughout the album, especially if one reads the lyrics while listening (which, I believe, Lowland Hum would prefer). The words are the true tour de force of this duo, expressing the anguish and mystery of intimacy with austere acuity.
In the song Fold, Daniel sings, “Stained glass reminds me of the way I got refracted by my playmates.” Such unceremonious, gut-plunging thrusts of the psychological sword occur often, and nearly always in an unassumingly gentle tone. “I try hard but I’m still cruel. I’m sad, but not out of concern for you. I’m discerning as a dog, easy to please: desires gone wrong, down on my knees… Help me love what is unending, help me love what is,” they murmur in Morning Meal. Concentric questions regarding relationship span the length of the album: How do I become more real? Am I in or outside of relationship? What is the connective meaning of this or that relationship? What does isolation in family look like?
Reverence, Respect, & Receptivity
In live performance, they are unified but distinct: Lauren stands hands-free (save for the occasional harmonica), her stance elegant and gentle. Daniel strums the guitar and stamps his feet to shake their jingling stage, which he designed to include tambourine bells – they are cleverly placed in slots every few inches, and add a bright tone to their songs.
Books are handed out at their concerts – they are small and simple, with cream-colored pages and small black type. The audience is invited to follow along with the lyrics, to familiarize themselves with each word, phrase, and image. A feeling of reverence is imparted, almost as though you’re sitting in a holy place and have been given psalms to absorb.
They look to one another often, reassuring and clear-eyed: their love for one another is palpable.
All of this – the lyrics, the hand-crafted stage, a marriage set to music – intimacy, forgiveness, trust, knowledge all laid bare in the eyes – , the booklets: all of it bespeaks a stance of reverence and patience. Convenience is obsolete: relationship is at the fore. Time is taken if time is needed. Layers are added if and when the creative surge impels them.
Lowland Hum consists of Daniel and Lauren Goans, and their music is a steady invitation to ‘be-with’. Take the risk true listening entails and sit down with their words, their images, and their story. You will be better for it.