“Cait #2” arrives less than halfway through Heba, the debut album from Danish quintet Lowly. At two minutes and thirty seconds, it operates as an interlude of sorts, a pleasant but functional aside traditionally assigned the role of breaking up a record's less timorous moments. Now, despite also being one of the most affecting pieces of music you’ll hear all year, the track nonetheless performs as such a set piece here, and provides - for something quite so breathless - a breather. Why? Because Heba is dizzyingly opulent, an embarrassment of riches delivered with the grace and economy of those who know they have plenty in reserve.
They can afford it.
The band describe themselves as “noise-pop and everything in between,” though in reality they’re far closer to the dream pop aesthetic championed by their label, Bella Union. By the time you learn that they hooked in longtime Efterklang engineer Anders Boll to co-produce the album, and that the only influence that every member of the band can agree on is Radiohead, a truer picture emerges. The genius of the latter has always been their ability to craft elaborately textured sonic landscapes that dazzled through industry, then knocked the listener flat with the feathered sweep of a "How to Disappear Completely" or "True Love Waits". At times, Lowly incorporate both elements into the same track. As “Deer Eyes” builds, Nanna Schannong and Soffie Viemose interlocking on lead vocals, one line produces a moment of childlike wonder: “Say we were nothing but a teenage… fling…” Viemose coos, and that last word is cast out like the end of a magic spell, a dream sequence harp ushering in a chorus fit for Fantasia.
Throughout the record, layers are applied to tracks with a measured ear. When the chorus of opener “Still Life” introduces a sampled TV voiceover, then adds operatic backing vocals (courtesy of Anna Maria Wierød) on top, it feels as though the effect should be oppressive; the fact that the resulting sound still manages to evoke more calm than disorientation is an enormous credit to both the songwriting and production. Not until the staccato drumming intro of “Prepare the Lake” does the album feels as though it could begin to overwhelm, though the heavenly movements of the chorus soon dissipate any tension previously built – a pleasurable event that becomes extraordinarily commonplace across Heba’s journey.
“Pommerate” reproduces the trick of “Cait #2” for the album's second half, opening as an unexpected echo of Camera Obscura before collapsing into another evanescent dream, living just long enough to stay caught in the memory after. What follows is “No Hands”, and though it feels almost asinine to talk of stand-outs on a record built for consistency, there is something about its anti-chorus of hazy, textured synths that remains particularly irresistible. “I’ve got no hands to prove you wrong” is not an objectively beautiful lyric, but like all great songs, when Lowly sing it, it feels like no other words could convey the track’s inherent sadness more perfectly.
“Word” is certainly the most Radiohead-indebted track here, though by the time it’s spilt into more keys-led maximalism, all influences are out the window. “There is the groove,” Viemose directs us, “and there is the channel,” and if it takes a little while to question the distinction marked between the two, then you’ve hit on the very essence of what makes the album unique. It's not supposed to be a quick hit of pleasure; if the term 'pop' is applied as a genre suffix at all, it's only to signpost a band who craft immensely enjoyable, melodic songs that rarely stray much beyond the four minute mark. But everything else is up in the air. This is a long player, a record designed to be played to death, one that rewards those curious enough to examine its nooks and crannies over days, weeks, years, a lifetime. In that respect, Heba represents something of a milestone: an album to be considered well beyond the confines of 2017, and perhaps as one of the finest indie debuts of the decade.
Release: 10th February 2017, Bella Union