After leaving the Cocteau Twins in 1983, bassist Will Heggie formed this quartet and continued playing atmospheric Scottish indie-pop, albeit in a somewhat darker hue. The Rain EP sets ringing, occasionally clashing, guitars and echoey deadpan vocals into long, rhythmically charged songs (some in a minor key) whose deep and dramatic vocals (by Craig Lorentson) contain a solemn trace of Joy Division.
Permanent Sleep delves deeper into instrumental and vocal textures, with layers of strummed and picked guitar and slippery bass chords (shades of New Order) dominating the sound. Despite Lowlife’s concentration on ambience, the affecting “Wild Swan” is a lovely song, punctuated by repeated guitar triplets fluttering overhead.
The aptly titled and excellent Diminuendo reduces Lowlife’s volume by stripping the arrangements of their thickening ingredients, leaving only the bass, simple drums and frugal bits of guitar and keyboards to support Lorentson’s increasingly ambitious and musical vocals. (The octave-jumping falsetto in “Big Uncle Ugliness” and commanding power of “Licking Ones Eyes” are indicative of his expanding stylistic range.) While opening up the sound does wonders for some songs (including “From Side to Side,” “Wonders Will Never Cease” and “Tongue Tied and Twisted,” which really sounds like a New Order track), the results can also be too dreamy, leaving tracks without luster.
The four disappointing new songs on Swirl, It Swings sound like outtakes from Diminuendo, only with feeble drumming and grandiose vocals. Named for a phrase scratched into one of Diminuendo‘s run-off grooves, From a Scream to a Whisper is a 1985-’88 compilation containing most of the 1987 EP plus several tracks from each of the three prior records.
Succumbing to the excesses of Lorentson’s newly dramatized vocal style, Godhead also marks a partial return to the early records’ busy instrumentation. While understandably moving to erase the New Order comparisons, the misnamed Godhead lacks the emotional drive that sparks all of Lowlife’s other albums and winds up labored and dull, a collection of unaffecting songs that plod — even at brisk tempos.