Awful Joy


Independent release, 2005

REVIEW BY: Jason Warburg


In the current bestseller The World Is Flat, New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman argues that technological advances are rapidly making existing business and political models and modes of thinking obsolete. In a process Friedman calls "the great sorting-out," all of the old models are being streamlined and transformed into entirely new ways of looking at commerce, government and the world itself.

It seems like a safe bet that Alexander Lowry would agree.

Borrowing what feels like an unused Gin Blossoms album title, Lowry has in Awful Joy created an album of music that acts like water on a watercolor, blurring lines between genres and re-sorting them into something new and vital. This debut disc melds Americana, chamber pop, quirky folk and abstract electronica into a swirling and weirdly appealing whole, sunny acoustic melodies butting up against downbeat lyrics and electronically-based musical left turns.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

"Knots" and "Arkansas" bookend the album in the Americana/alt-folk realm, putting the spotlight squarely on Lowry's swerving, nasally voice, which strikes me as something akin to Tom Petty trying to sing falsetto while tripping. Lowry also throws in the occasional disheveled, yelp-y twang for good measure. The funny thing is, his spaced-out folkie persona is so completely realized here that after awhile the occasional off-key singing blends right in.

Lowry is nothing if not avant-garde, weaving abstract electronic interludes between and through these song's eclectic acoustic arrangements. He embellishes the endearingly needy "What You Got" with mellotron, the surreal "Fourth Of July" with cello and banjo, and the six-minute chamber-pop freak-out "Kensington Cowboy" with '70s synths and Motown-on-acid background vocals.

Lowry's lyrics are an interesting blend of abstract verse and concrete detail. By way of example, there's the lyric to the Band-meets-Bacharach strangeness of "Imo Fight You" -- "I'm gonna break you right in two / You're gonna be kissing the curb when I'm through / I'm gonna hunt you like Boris Yelstin / Put you in a full nelson" and so on, until the song eventually implodes in a full-on Jeff Tweedy spaz-out.

Tweedy feels like he's in the room again for "The Creeps," where the special effects repeatedly hijack the song off its acoustic guitar and electric piano foundations. Here Lowry lapses into self-parody, extending a song that began to annoy at the three-minute mark into a five-and-a-half-minute monstrosity. Worse yet is "Bridge Down," a captured-and-distorted snippet of studio banter that's a self-indulgent waste of time.

Lowry is aggressively not for everyone, an artiste who may be a bit too purposeful in his determination to be different. Still, his "psychedelic-epic" songcraft is inventive and at times compelling. While this disc didn't turn me into a raving fan, it was definitely an interesting ride. If Yankee Hotel Foxtrot left you breathless and begging for more, Awful Joy is worth checking out.

Rating: B

User Rating: Not Yet Rated



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