top ten for 2013. I guess it was underrated even by me!
After a long wait, we finally get a second LP from Low Culture. It's called Places To Hide, and it's a dandy! The band, now based in Portland, Oregon, has totally knocked it out of the park with this album. Fans seeking more of the band's poppy, fuzzy, garagey punk goodness will not be disappointed by any means. But rather than rehashing its signature sound, Low Culture has chosen to build off of it. Without getting too far away from what this band does best, Places To Hide combines a tougher sound with more sophisticated songwriting and greater stylistic variety. This still sounds like a Low Culture record, but there are a few tracks that might totally surprise you as well. A lot of the lyrics are inspired by singer Chris Mason's move from New Mexico to Portland and the alienation/dissatisfaction that compelled this life change. Perhaps that sounds like heavy stuff, but I've always admired Mason's ability to pair "bummer" lyrics with music that's upbeat and hard-driving. He reminds me of Bob Mould in that respect. The feel of this album is ultimately triumphant - as Mason works through his issues and finds his way toward the light.
Places To Hide starts out in familiar territory with crowd-pleasing numbers like "Head In a Blender" and "Slave To You" rivaling the best of recent output from label mates such as Radioactivity and The Steve Adamyk Band. And "I Don't Buy It" is a shining example of pop-punk done right. But the breaks from Low Culture's signature form are no less satisfying. "Hate Me When I Go" eases off the tempo and is pretty close to a pure pop song, while the melancholic jangle of "Lonely Summer" really tugs at the heartstrings. Album closer "Shake It Off" - with its post-modern/new wave vibe - is almost completely unrecognizable as a Low Culture song. Yet it's not just there for the sake of something different. It's genuinely one of the highlights of the album - suggesting what Weezer might have sounded like if they'd come out in 1980.
With Places To Hide, we get an album from Low Culture that's somehow both poppier and harder-hitting than its predecessor. It's got enough in common with Screens to keep the fan base happy, but it's definitely a step forward for the band. Even more straight-forward tracks like "Evil" and "Take and Take" have surprising depth due to their emotional intensity and thoughtful lyrics. In every respect, this album is a classic Dirtnap release. Something tells me I won't be overlooking it come year end!