Once, your twenties was the period in which you chose to meet up to society’s expectations.
But now it has the aura of a head-shrinking free for all; a maze of juxtapositions, it’s a decade you don’t want to be over but in other ways can’t wait to leave.
Now imagine being a musician in your twenties. This has been the fate of Low Island – Carlos Posada (vocals), Jamie Jay (lots of instruments), Jacob Lively (bass) and Felix Higginbottom (hitting things) – whilst also navigating the collapse of entertaining people as a means of financially supporting yourself.
Perhaps a natural way to insulate from this exhausting SNAFU would be to withdraw into your shell, but despite going separate ways with their management company in the run up to making If You Could Have It All Again, the Oxford quartet’s determination and self-sufficiency has resulted in a debut album that’s crisscrossed with vibrant footnotes.
It comes with one of the most self-explanatory titles of the year, Posada using the fuel of a series of relationship dead ends and our dichotomous 21st century social need to both conform and stand out.
Opener Hey Man succumbs to this confusion, the singer’s falsetto sitting naked against a mono-note synth line before what sounds like a two-minute drum solo which has bled in from the studio next door explodes into the background, in the process ruining any chance to get closer to the sentiment. It’s a missed opportunity, but one (wisely) not repeated.
We know that it’s not impossible to experiment and yet still produce slick pop from this millennial stew, as the likes of Glass Animals and Everything Everything have frequently done.
On What Do You Stand For listeners get the former, a post punk swipe at being dehumanized with Posada thinking, ‘I wanna flex my irrelevance’, but Don’t Let The Light In reveals the other side in all its bass-slapping carefreeness, Who’s Having The Greatest Time? doubling down whilst still hating the players and the game ‘because everyone’s all up in everyone’s face’.
There are also notes about feeling trapped: I Do It For You deals with the existential dread of being able to see the end of something but not accepting it, crabbing awkwardly from doomy piano to defiant chorus, while In Your Arms claws at the nostalgic recall of Posada’s childhood bedroom, a twisted, wobbly keyboard line mimicking that blurred out picture which now only exists inside a misremembered dream.
Back to this pop thing again, that gauche construct that seems impossibly unsophisticated in an age where happiness is supposed to hurt. The problem here is that the quartet are pretty good at it. Spaces Closing In has a quiet confidence they might not always feel in the bubble, but the real masterclass is on Feel Young Again, the sort of mate-hugging singalong which will probably have you dance like no-one’s watching until life opens up again for good.
By closer ‘What The Hell (are you gonna do now)?’ which struggles with the cause not the symptom, a reset of a kind seems inevitable. Needing things, it lusts for ‘weekend walks and pillow talk’ whilst not knowing how to get them, ending with a monologue on the sin of trying to be a master of emotional disguise and the consequences of failing.
It’s just a number, but on If You Could Have It All Again, Low Island have framed the snake and ladder effects of age with a conversational honesty, their music in deep and peaking with it when they can.