Moving is regarded as one of the most stress-inducing events of adult life; so it should surprise no one that artists faced with the hardships of relocation sometimes turn to their craft for therapeutic release. This was the case for Ryan Joseph Karazija, the erstwhile frontman of Oakland, CA alt-rockers Audrye Sessions, who uprooted his life several years ago and resettled 4,300 miles away in Reykjavik, Iceland. Karazija’s self-titled solo effort, released under the self-reflexive moniker Low Roar, is a response to the brooding anxiety and loneliness he experienced while adjusting to life in a then-foreign country. The resulting album is a haunting, if slightly disjointed, trek into listlessness and uncertainty.
Low Roar vacillates between two similar, but identifiably different, modes. One is a sort of low-impact Americana that borrows heavily from ‘60s- and ‘70s-era hippie-troubadours. The other (and by far more interesting) sound is an ethereal mash-up of heady, folk-influenced vocals and dark, ambient electronica. Despite their sometimes-subtle differences, these tones complement one another. In this way, Low Roar is binary but cohesive.
“Just a Habit”
Karazija unifies these themes by utilizing a recurring set of instruments throughout the album. Guitars (acoustic and electric), pump organs, harps, strings, pads, keyboards, and a smattering of percussion deftly define the album’s collective sound. All of the record’s 11 songs feature Karazija’s lilting, oft angelic voice, which is usually affected and looped into an unearthly chorus of accompaniment — easily one of the highlights of his lo-fi styling. The titular low roar — a pervasive, bassy rumble — characterizes the album’s electronic pieces, adding a surreal, dreamlike (nightmarish?) quality to the tracks. Low Roar’s folkier songs are largely distinguished by the addition of acoustic guitar; but it doesn’t do much to improve the lethargy that characterizes these numbers.
Low Roar steps off with “Give Up,” a short Donovan-esque track that incorrectly sets the tone for the rest of the album. “Just a Habit” and “Nobody Else,” two of the record’s spacey electronic pieces, follow. While the former incorporates some light electric guitar, it manages to capture a tone that’s much less optimistic than the opening ballad. The former delves even deeper, using only electronic pads and layered vocals to create a breathless, darkly atmospheric soundscape. Luckily, these electronic tracks outnumber the less interesting “folk” pieces.
Low Roar’s five acoustic tracks — including the Iron & Wine-flavored “Rolling Over” and “Because We Have To” — are scattered throughout the album. Of its remaining seven songs, only two — “Puzzle” and debut single “Tonight, Tonight, Tonight” — retain the loop-heaviness of “Nobody Else.” The rest of the album’s songs feature the melancholy moodiness and acoustic/electronic crossovers of “Nobody Else.” “Patience” is an album standout, fluidly combining Karazija’s lilting vocals with murky pad work and gossamer violin stings. Unfortunately, not every track lives up to its example; but the end result is an interesting take on contemporary dream pop.
Sound Quality: Despite it’s lo-fi aesthetic, Low Roar makes for a great presentation on vinyl. While its songs are predominantly gloomy, the emphasis on mellow, enveloping synths is easily supported by the tonal warmth native to wax pressings. Stereo systems with good low-end response will get the most from the album’s persistent, throbbing “low roar.”
Packaging: The album is presented as a 2xLP on standard-weight (150g) black vinyl. The discs are housed within a double-slotted, gatefold sleeve, printed on glossy, heavy card stock. A 12″x12″ white paper slip protects each disc within the sleeve. While the album art is understated, it’s also a little underwhelming — if not lazy. The album’s lyrics and credits are printed on the gatefold’s interior spread.
Extras: Low Roar‘s D-side features a “single edit” of its debut track, “Tonight, Tonight, Tonight,” which clocks in at just under eight minutes in its original format. It’s not a completely unwelcome addition, but the D-side might have been better utilized with an etching. A now-standard download card is included with the package. There doesn’t appear to be any additional variants available for the album.
Summary: While the tracks on Low Roar play well together, their differences are evident enough to make the album feel a little uneven. Its mediocre “acoustic folk” songs are fine, but are easily out-shined by the heavier, darker, and far more compelling electronic pieces. If you don’t mind cherry-picking the album’s track list, Low Roar can be an enjoyable, but entirely somber, experience. Even though the music translates well on vinyl, the album’s lackluster packaging — combined with the spotty catalogue — doesn’t make it a “must-have” for casual listeners.
Make Sure To Spin: “Just a Habit,” “Nobody Else,” and “Patience”
Low Roar is available for purchase at Tonequake Records’ webstore