During the height of British lockdown last winter, Olivia Osby and Avsha Weinberg found themselves in London accidentally flooding their downstairs neighbour’s kitchen, having scrapes with dodgy AirBnB owners, and crafting a unique record of sonic reflection. That record, The Gaping Mouth, is the Atlanta pairs first EP together under the moniker of Lowertown.
The seven-track collection of blown-out indie wistful odes, layered with bedroom-bound mellowed-melancholy and candid originality, are due for release on September 16th via Dirty Hit. It is a collection of songs that intones the creative bond that the two shares, having been best friends since high school. As they informed me when we caught up recently, they may have very different workflows, but the record nevertheless achieves a level of sui generis singularity only possible if a succinct creative vision is shared.
Ahead of the hotly anticipated release, they kindly agreed to share some of the influences of the outing by prescribing nine records that have got them through a lot. Continuing with our Mental Health Awareness campaign, Far Out Magazine has teamed up with the suicide prevention charity CALM to help connect you with your favourite artists and hear how music has helped them during their darker times and day-to-day lives.
The organisation, with the full working title of ‘Campaign Against Living Miserably’, offer a free, confidential and anonymous helpline for those most in need of mental health support. Now lockdown measures have eased, that doesn’t mean that impact of the last eighteen months has ended, and CALM still needs as much help as possible to carry on with its excellent work.
We at Far Out believe in music’s ability to heal. It could be the moment that the needle drops on your favourite song and provides respite from a chaotic world, or, conversely, it might be the fanatic conversation you have with friends about which guitarist was the greatest. Music, it’s safe to say, has always allowed us to connect with one another and ourselves.
In support of CALM, we’re asking a selection of our favourite people to share nine records that they would prescribe for anyone they met and the stories behind their importance.
Doctor’s Orders sees some of our favourite musicians, actors, authors, comedians, and more offer up the most important records they deem essential for living well.
Lowertown’s choice of albums are an assortment of records that all arrived at poignant times and helped when he needed it most, providing both creative impetus and the precious inviolable sanctity that music always offers up. They may have split their choices up, but as you’ll see, for the most part, they’re singing off the same hymn sheet.
Lowertown’s nine favourite records:
Sparklehorse – It’s a Wonderful Life
Sparklehorse’s third studio album from back in 2001, featured the likes of Tom Waits, PJ Harvey and The Cardigans’ Nina Persson. Its lo-fi ways proved to be a hugely influential record for Avsha.
“This record has played many different, yet equally significant roles for me growing up,” Avsha explains. “This was the first record I ever bought with my own money. I had discovered Mark Linkous originally as an influence to many of my favourite artists of the time, and discovering this record at 13 years old opened up a world of possibilities for me.”
Avsha continues: “I had grown up learning about artists and records that went against the grain and were incredibly popular as being revolutionary, but because of these artists being common knowledge, I felt that I shared their music with the rest of the world. With It’s a Wonderful Life, I felt as if I had discovered it all on my own. It felt like a private exhibition of someone’s very personal sadness. Of course, at the time, I was unaware of Sparklehorse’s popularity, but hearing an adult convey things that were so poignant and applicable to me helped me realize that what I was thinking wasn’t nonsense.”
The cognizant space that the record creates has stayed with him ever since: “It helped me realize that even if I feel this way forever, it will not stop me from doing what I really want to do and making something that I’m really proud of. The personal feeling of the record and the flow from slow, sad song to aggressive, sad song to a brighter, sad song became the exemplar of how to create an incredible, fresh, and inventive sad record.”
Elliott Smith – Either/Or
Elliott Smith is an artist detectable in Lowertown’s withdrawn and sullen sound. For many fans, Either/Or is his rhythmic best. Avsha was profoundly moved by the candid emotion of the record even from a young age.
Avsha explained: “It’s difficult to find something to say about Elliott Smith’s significance in personal emotional expression that hasn’t been said. Either/Or for me presents dense and complicated lyrics about dense and complicated topics in songs that are somehow complex and simple all at the same time.”
He then continues: “As an introverted and shy person, it felt like Elliott Smith was able to show me that having that internal dialogue that would push self-doubt and hatred was not fact, but a misguided understanding and interpretation of the environment around me. What I believed was necessary to live an ordinary life was an angry suppression of natural feelings, and I felt that songs like ‘2:45 a.m.’ and ‘Speed Trials’ were an open-minded, clear-headed look at what living with those ingrained thoughts were.”
“The complexity of the songs mirrored the complexity of the emotional and personal ideas he was conveying. So many of those songs have soundtracked the greatest highs and lowest lows of my life. I grew my own personal relationship with him, and his ability to successfully present an image that was personless and egoless was incredibly inspirational to me. My personal relationship with him still feels incredibly strong for me, and I think his pure artistry will go down as some of the most important in the progression of music.”
Radiohead – Kid A
Radiohead’s Kid A was a record that opened doors to a new bohemian world for many youngsters of a certain generation. Avsha was one of those who were stirred up by its unusual presence in the forefront of modern pop culture.
“I remember clearly the digital, textured landscape that was the cover of Kid A from when I was very very young in my family home in Boston,” Avsha recalls. “I remember imagining the world that this landscape was in and the purpose that it played.”
Later adding: “This record was the first ever that I was able to establish an internal visual connection with. These internal visuals have changed over time, and I have been able to draw connections with them to my drastic emotional and personal changes in my life. I felt truly that I understood isolation (ironic) and desolation.”
“Listening to this record allowed me to find comfort in times of isolation and discomfort as well as showing me that creativity can flourish in times of introspection. It also allowed me to understand the significance of emotional worldbuilding. When the space or place you are in does not allow you to freely express yourself, creating a space where you can help immensely. This record built the landscape and allowed me to fill in the characters, relationships, and emotions when I didn’t think I could myself.”
Pretend – Bones in the Soil, Rust in the Oil
In recent years, the math-rock genre has swelled somewhat, and echoes of it can be heard in various other genres. One of the most important records on its journey was undoubtedly Pretend’s 2009 outing, Bones in the Soil, Rust in the Oil.
Avsha explains: “Math rock was a super influential genre to me because it felt like an incredibly weird way to use the guitar. When I first listened, it felt like something that was bred out of boredom taken to an extreme level. I think music has evolved because of a boredom with what has come before, and it felt like it came at a time when I myself was bored.”
Furthering his point, Avsha added: “There are periods of my life that come about in a patterned procession where I am unable to reach a point where I can feel a range of feelings; everything feels like eating gruel every day for a month. I first heard this record during one of those periods, and I felt comfortable for the first time in a state like that. It didn’t feel too heady or complex simply for the sake of complexity, as a lot of math-rock tends to do; it feels like a dense, textured, and really thoughtful emo record that happened to be in the math rock genre.”
He continues to explain his personal connection to the LP: “I would listen to this record whenever I could. Some days, I would listen with just my right earphone in during class and sometimes with only my left, just so I could hear all the instruments and parts. This record made me appreciate music that wasn’t at all about a hook or just the singer, but about the emotion it conveyed. It felt like the sole purpose of the music was to convey emotion through texture. I never focused on the words; I just allowed it to be a record that comforted me and in the most benign way, guided me towards a feeling the nature of which was not always understood to me.”
Duster – Stratosphere
Stratosphere was the debut album by American space-rock band Duster, released back in 1998. The slowcore anthems were among the first that Olivia would forage into when discovering her musical niche.
“Slowcore music has a special place in my heart,” Olivia remarks. “Stratosphere is sort of the exemplar of a perfect slowcore album. It’s amazing all the way through, and whenever I listen to ‘Inside Out’ or ‘Constellations’, I feel like I could burst into tears. It feels like warmth and a tight hug from someone you love. It feels like nostalgia and your good childhood memories and everything collapsing around you.”
“Whenever I listen to the title track, I always feel like I’m in a spaceship leaving earth, and I feel the G forces pushing me against my seat. The guitar tone in this soothes my soul. My guitar tone in my recent solo project has had a similar feeling just because I love how taking out a lot of the high frequencies in guitar hits my ear. All the sounds on this project mesh so well and compliment each other: the synths, guitars, and pushed back vocals. It creates this unique atmosphere and feeling like you’re floating in space all alone, and you’re looking down at the earth through the window of your spaceship and feeling really small.”
Olivia then concludes: “It’s the perfect album to lie on the floor of your bedroom really late at night and listen to all the way through. I have to admit I’ve been doing that a lot recently.”
Microphones – The Glow, Pt. 2
Microphones were undoubtedly one of the critical bands when it came to the resurgence of folk back at the start of the millennium. Their third record, The Glow Pt. 2, has been touted as an influence by many of the bands that followed and Olivia and Lowertown are just the latest to join them.
“The first tattoo I got was of the elephant from this album cover,” Olivia happily explains. “This album heavily inspired a lot of my musical direction throughout high school and occupies a very special space in my heart.
It has also been a huge impact on her music, as she explains: “My song ‘Mantis’ was written after thoroughly listening through Phil’s demos for this album. I found this album when I was 15, and it has continued to be one of my consistent listens since. It feels completely authentic and intimate. Phil’s voice is so sweet and youthful, and his words feel relatable and raw, like listening to an outpouring of pure, unfiltered emotion. I love the varying instrumentation and experimentation on this album.”
Olivia concludes: “I love the audible mess ups and the whole concept the album accomplishes. I think I discovered my love of the sound of horns, steel drums and noisy distortion and drawn out with this album. The long-drawn-out quiet ending on the last song on the album “My Warm Blood” feels like a perfect wind-down to the intense experience of listening to that album all the way through. There’s not a single song that I don’t completely love. It all fits together and makes so much sense.”
Elliott Smith (Self Titled)
As mentioned previously, the tender hushed tones that somehow have a sharp edge of Elliott Smith, are highly detectable in The Gaping Mouth and with both Olivia and Avsha championing the late indie star, that’s hardly surprising.
Olivia enlightens: “Elliott Smith’s entire discography is incredibly important to me. He is one of the most influential artists to my music thus far. I’ve listened to this record an immense amount of times while alone. It has kept me company through a lot of difficult parts of my life.”
Regarding his self-titled effort, Olivia adds: “It feels so intimate, and the beautiful instrumentation paired with Smith’s passionate vocals creates an amazing listen all the way through. There are so many parts of songs that I’ll scream at the top of my lungs or cry alone in the car to. All of Smith’s music is incredibly important and needs to continue to be shared and listened to.”
Car Seat Headrest – Twin Fantasy (Mirror to Mirror – 2011)
The almost-punk DIY element of modern indie has a lot to do with stars like Car Seat Headrest. His 2011 effort, Twin Fantasy, which he later revisited in 2018 with Twin Fantasy (Face to Face), proved to be a big record for Oliva.
“Twin Fantasy perfectly captures the intense and unrealistic nature of young love and adolescent anxiety. I love the amateurish feeling of this project. The sound quality with the drum machines, synth sounds, and vocal delivery makes it feel like music made of pure passion and the writer’s necessity to relieve himself of these overwhelming emotions,” Olivia remarks.
Adding: “It feels exposed and honest like listening to someone read out a young, lovesick teenager’s diary or peering into their daydreams (especially in the songs where the vocals are drawn out and in a talking style like listening to a stream of writer’s innermost thoughts). I found myself listening to the album over and over on Bandcamp during my early-mid teenager years. Toledo was definitely one of the most important artists to me at that point in my life and his music helped me through a lot.”
Alex G – Race
Together Lowertown chose to champion a record that they gladly explained encapsulates their friendship. Alex G’s DIY Bandcamp ethos proved highly influential, and Olivia and Avsha were enamoured with his 2010 debut.
Together they explained: “Race is probably one of the most significant records we both share. Not only has it played a role in our lives individually, but it was also the first of many records that we became obsessed with. Olivia had been familiar with Alex G’s unreleased work before our friendship began, but I knew very little, and I was by no means a fan.”
The two then began to bond over the music, “She showed it to me for the first time in the car, and I felt as if I understood the record, and I enjoyed it, but it definitely took some time for me to realize the scope of the importance of the record to me. Olivia had just moved schools to my school, and I was introverted, so we were both shy and unsure about our friendship, but the bond that we created through the lyrics and simplicity of this record solidified our friendship and started off what ended up becoming Lowertown.”
Lowertown is an indie fairytale and as Olivia and Avsha explained, this record is at the band’s core: “Alex G wrote this record at age 17, and his ability to encapsulate the exact emotions that we were going through at the time in a way that wasn’t trying to be anything bigger than it was, spoke to us. It felt like such an obvious record in a way that it was mystifying. It felt like it was exactly what we were feeling, but we had no idea that somebody could put it so frankly, so bluntly, and so simply. The record’s ability to perfectly understand the insecurity that comes with the unknown felt like a comforting voice to focus on while everything around us was so hectic.”
The Gaping Mouth EP Track Listing
- 1. Clown Car
- 2. Seaface
- 3. The Gaping Mouth
- 4. Burn On My Own
- 5. Debris
- 6. Grass Stains
- 7. Sunburnt
Out September 16th via Dirty Hit.