It’s not for every band that you can say their career path has gone exactly as expected, but Lower Than Atlantis are definitely one of them. Starting off as the bullish offspring of Gallows and Every Time I Die on their 2010 debut Far Q, its follow-up World Record was a major refinement into an alt-rock sound that scores would subsequently latch onto, hardly surprising considering that album is to this day their crowning achievement. It’s hardly a surprise that their 2014 self-titled album shot for a more pop-rock direction then, given a hugely increased profile and the chance for a fresh start after its lacklustre predecessor Changing Tune. And continuing with the pattern, fifth album Safe In Sound feels like the extrapolation of their self-titled effort, a bit more polished again and honed into the strengths discovered from playing around with a new sound. And though it does have its issues, Safe In Sound is yet another focused, addictive and highly praiseworthy album, especially compared to the most of the crop of shiny pop-rock bands.
The reason for this is that Lower Than Atlantis actually work with their production rather than against it, allowing an unexpectedly meaty guitar tone to break through to give a little more oomph, all while keeping the whole piece as glossy and blemish-free as they like. They’re definitely better when they give themselves the propensity to let loose and rock a bit harder, like with the crunchy, circular riff of Work For It, or sweeping buildup and “Who are ya?” chants on Long Time Coming. It’s in these moments that their sound comes across with the most power, and is a much better fit for Mike Duce’s less-refined vocals. It’s definitely refreshing that the production isn’t too intrusive though, only ever poking through the guitars for a few electronic crackles or beats around the edges that are welcome additions to add a bit more flavour.
It’s telling that, when Lower Than Atlantis rely too much on these synthetic elements, the results are hit-or-miss at best. Dumb sees it working at its best with a sparkly guitar skip that’s like The 1975 on steroids, and though the simmering electro-pop of Boomerang is definitely a grower, the choppy beat is infectious enough to stick in the end. It’s certainly better than Money, which boils down an already basic ‘pros and cons of materialism’ dynamic even further, but quickly reaches the end of its tether both in terms of lyricism and its uninspiring pop instrumentation.
It’s one of the few examples of Mike Duce’s songwriting not really connecting on this album as, for as excellent a lyricist he usually is, you can tell he’s in full-blown pop songwriter mode here. There’s the heavy toning down of his usual incisiveness and sharpness, and there are a few poor efforts here, like some of the clumsier lines of I Would (“I would kill a man just to hold your hand” is played-out as a sentiment now and really needs to be left alone), or A Night To Forget which sounds like a One Direction leftover. Still, even when he’s not running at full steam, there’s enough intelligence and humanity in his writing so that they never even get close to dull pop songs. The deliberately small scale of Could Be Worse has a few poignant, relatable moments that are easy to connect to, and the vulnerable I Don’t Want To Be Here Anymore is probably the closest they’ve gotten to reaching the heights of their albatross ballad Another Sad Song to date. And of course, there’s no shortage of huge choruses – Dumb, Had Enough and Work For It are just a small sample of the kind of radio-friendly unit shifters that this band make look like the easiest thing in the world.
That’s clearly the direction that Lower Than Atlantis are aiming for, and Safe In Sound is a success in those regards. But even with their domination of the airwaves on the cards, it’s good to see that Lower Than Atlantis haven’t completely distanced themselves from rock altogether. And while this is certainly not their best work – in terms of quality it fluctuates too much to make a definitive statement on how well it works overall – it’s a bold step that pays off in the ways it needs to. The next step for Lower Than Atlantis could be a big one, but Safe In Sound shows they have the tools in their arsenal to make it through unscathed.
For fans of: Don Broco, The 1975, Young Guns
Words by Luke Nuttall
‘Safe In Sound’ by Lower Than Atlantis is out now on Easy Life Records / Red Essential.