Published August 20, 2014
What: Low Roar / Mr. Silla
When: August 15, 20:30
Where: Tjarnarbíó, Tjarnargötu 12
Admission: 2,000 ISK
It began with one of the best album openers I’ve heard this year. Clocking in at over nine minutes when performed live, “Breathe In” slowly builds and builds, harmonies swelling and reverb-soaked drums thumping, before it calmly retreats back from where it came. The song effortlessly evokes serenity—a clearing of the built-up bustle of every day life before the remainder of the album sets off. For me, it conjured up a misty morning at sea, climbing out of the cabin, looking around and, for the first time, seeing no sign of shore—placid isolation. It summoned that first breath of salty air and everything it entails. I’ve never been on that boat, but with “Breathe In,” the scene floated into my consciousness with ease.
After a few listens I knew that Low Roar’s sophomore album, ‘0,’ was very good, but seeing it performed in this particular setting enabled me to see it in a new light. For their album release show, Low Roar elected to play Tjarnabíó, a mid-size seated theatre located next to Tjörnin. Lead singer Ryan Karazija was joined by members of the reliably fantastic Mr. Silla as well as a captivating string section and a slowly-rotating gem-like decoration in the middle of the stage.
Even with that odd little contraption, it was clear from early on that this spectacle would be fully focused on the music. Small talk was non-existent and transitions between songs were seamless, orchestrated perfectly as to never leave a moment hanging without sound.
‘0’ played out perfectly in this setting. They didn’t perform it in exact order, but I thought the sequencing was better live than on record. Sometimes in the middle of the album I tend to zone out a little, not because the songs aren’t great individually, but because the tempos are so similar. However, with the added interludes between songs, each more effectively stood out in its own right.
The delicate guitar work, strings, and synth swells and whirrs were great, but Ryan’s voice was the real star of the show. His vocals were, as would be expected from any live show, more expressive than on record, yet didn’t lose hardly any of their smoothness. Though his voice reminds me of someone I quite can’t place, at separate times I caught moments of Thom Yorke, Alt-J at their mellowest and least weird, and even a little Jónsi when Ryan hit his highest notes, which is something I didn’t pick up on the record.
The production and arrangement on the album is consistently interesting, and at it’s most aggressive it even recalls a stripped-down version of underground hip-hop producer extraordinaire El-P (if you don’t believe me, start at 4:39 of “Vampire On My Fridge” and then listen to El-P-produced “R.A.P. Music” ). My only qualm with the live show, and, to a lesser degree, the record, is that when combined with the digital percussion, the live hi-hats can sometimes stand out as a little harsh.
While ‘0’ is very good at first listen and definitely grows with additional spins, I would encourage anyone who can to see it played up close to appreciate it even more. Although they are embarking on a U.S./Canada/Europe tour supporting Ásgeir, having seen both acts live, I believe Low Roar puts on the better performance. That said I’m driving wherever I have to in order to catch them stateside when I go back this fall.