There will be absolutely no bullshitting with background info or anything of the like here. Let’s get straight down to business, to the heart of Low Level X’s new album Psychology by Design.
If nothing else the opening, titular track lets you know what you’re in for: Lofty production values, liberal use of speech sampling, and songs that last a little too long and never really get to the place you want them to. That sounds like I’ve taken the gloves off and I’m ready to tear them limb from limb, but it’s not the case. Low Level X have a lot going for them. Above all, it’s a sense of rarity that should be taken away from this; theirs is not a sound you get to hear very often.
Practical Problem Solver is a great example of what I’m getting at. It starts out as your simple up-tempo rocker, but it’s not too long before there’s a crowding of harmony and effects. I understand that they’re not your average two-guitar-bassist-drummer-singer rock band, but it just feels like they’re over-complicating what’s otherwise a decent little tune. I’d suggest reworking the chorus. If this song were a woman, she’d only be interested in foreplay. It’s given me musical blue-balls, tempting me with something, but not putting-out when push comes to shove (or something a little less rapey).
Once Again, once again treats us to some more sampling – thankfully it’s not quite as much as the intro or I’d seriously be considering writing this off. It’s less industrial than the first two tunes; more grunge to my ears. It’s a ballsy vocal – and I don’t mean that in the sense of bravery. Every sound is dragged up from the cojones, kicking and screaming from sack to track. I’d even go as far as saying I fucking love this vocalist, but I’m not sure about the 90 second outro.
Waterslide is up next. If you’re giving this the full listen-through, just picture my face frowning nearly every time there’s a sample, because that’s how it’s making me feel. It’s Low Level X’s psychedelic side coming out. It’s a departure from what we’ve heard so far. There are definitely early 90s influences here, but I’m thinking more Manchester than Seattle for the verses. I do kind of like the outro in this, for a change, but the solo hasn’t got me fully convinced.
The Way We Think is a track that answers the age-old question ‘What would the Stone Roses sound like if Eddie Vedder was their frontman?’ It builds nicely in the verse, encouraging me to hope for something spectacular in the chorus, but it doesn’t quite deliver fully on the promise. It’s not bad by any means, but it just feels like it’s a little below what it could have been. It’s chilled, anyway; something for those sunny days the rest of the world has been bragging about when you can finally dust-off your deckchairs and sit outside with a few beers.
Following that up is Nothing Exceeds Time, or as I have come to know it, Simon and Garfunkel Go Electric. I’m not sure what a folk song is doing in the middle of this, but I rather like it – until the chorus. For me, it just falls apart when the distortion kicks in. The harmonies I liked so much from the verse seem to get lost once it begins in a mash of imperfect timing and frankly, unnecessary loudness.
Silhouette is a tasty little tune. For me, it’s the best so far. A libertines-style double vocal, but with two blokes with a fair set of pipes between them and a catchy little riff. It has a great indie feel to it, but like more than one song on this album, I’m not sold on the chorus. The harmonies need serious toning down. I get that these guys can harmonise, but they don’t need a full harmony going over most of their tracks. And yes, I get that it’s playing on the silhouette/shadow thing, but it’s abundantly clear in the back-and-forth early on.
When it comes to Chains, the three part harmony just sounds a little sloppy. I’m convinced it would sound better as a solo vocal the whole way through. This song features some of the nicest guitar work on the album, with by far the best solo I’ve heard out of them. It’s intricate, but not hair metal OTT. But it’s the same stumbling blocks for me over and over, featuring yet another outro that could be cut down or out.
Emissions is a not the strangest place for Psychology by Design to end; we’re back on the mellow end of our psychedelic trip. I have the same criticisms for this song as I do for the rest of this album – it goes on a bit too long and the backing vocals don’t fully gel for me. As far as the overall feel of the track goes, I like it. Emissions goes along like a nodding head with its eyes closed, the perfect place for a natural lull, but then, out of nowhere, the guitar goes screaming off, and everything, as if caught by surprise, obediently follows at volume.
All in all, it’s alright, but it could be better. There’s a lot to work with here and I get the feeling throughout, that if someone had just sat down with this band, given them a list of what works and what doesn’t (the former would most definitely be longer, despite me being a horrible bastard and focusing mainly on the negatives) they could have produced a solid four or five-star album.
I’m imagining a scenario where a producer had them in a room and just gave it to them straight,
“Cut the long outros, dial back on the harmonies and sampling, and tighten up or even completely change some of the choruses”, before locking them in the studio overnight with a healthy supply of things to drink and smoke.
It sounds like a lot of work, but in reality, it’s the musical equivalent of proof-reading. I guarantee they’d have tightened it all up and produced something of a seriously high standard. However, this producer didn’t exist.
We’re not left with anything bad, but we’re not left with that tingling you had the first time you heard your favourite band cranking out your favourite song. For me, the prevailing sensation is more the lingering question of ‘What if?’
I think that’s why I’ve been (arguably unfairly) critical. There’s no point in polishing a turd, but if there’s a diamond in the rough, sometimes you have to go at it with coarse sandpaper in the hopes that it’ll really start to shine. Keep your eyes on Low Level X, they’re not all that far from something that’s primed to blow us all away, provided they can find the right hands for the detonator.