Lo-Pan return to fry some amps with their melodic take on heavy stoner rock. Subtle incorporates lighter elements to complement their stacked playbook of riffs.
Lo-Pan have been anything but subtle in the past, so when I heard their latest album was named just that, my eyebrow raised high enough to hoist a sail on a ship. My introduction to the Ohio desert/stoner rockers was their 2017 EP In Tensions, which I couldn’t recommend any higher for lethally catchy and heavy music with a ton of melody, so I was wondering how different their new material was going to be. After listening to Subtle, I can say it’s different enough to note, but is still Lo-Pan as hell. I’ll explain.
The one thing – if I had to only pick one – that really gripped me with Lo-Pan at first was the absolutely mind-blowing vocals courtesy of Jeff Martin. His voice just glides like a regal bird over the thick haze of stoned-out guitars, mid-tempo drums, and rugged bass. So, when I heard the first track on the album that was also the first single, I was surprised! “Ten Days” is a bit more subtle than I was planning on, but hey, props to the band for sticking to a theme. Vocals are more understated than, say, “Go West” was, or much of the rest of the album as I’d soon find out. Still, Martin still has an effortless melody in his cadence here, the hook latching into you like the matryoshka doll-esque arrangement of toothy jaws on the album cover would.
It’s like meeting an old friend for lunch one day, seeing how they’ve changed – even subtly – but finding familiarity and comfort in their presence. And it’s on the next single, “Ascension Day”, where I see those great old times I know and loved. The track hits like a fond memory, showcasing Martin’s galactic signing and a riff worthy of induction into the Smithsonian museum. The pre-chorus about halfway through the track gives me chills as Martin inflects his voice up and down. Other tracks like “Sage” with its quick-strummed riffing in the middle, or the fierce “Bring Me a War” that bakes in a little atmosphere with the guitar tone impress in similar, familiar ways.
It’s when we get to “Butcher’s Bill” tucked away toward the end of the album that we see nice, gentle atmospheric change in the intro. It’s a great comedown from the more raucous tendencies of the quartet. Tempos are slower allowing everything to stick to you harder, including the bass which has a warm, amber, crunchy, creamy feel to it like a piece of toffee. The descending melody of the chorus is lovely and demonstrative of the band’s stellar writing ability, and there’s more tender moments spun into the DNA of this song that make it stand out really well.
Subtle truly lives up to its name not only here, but in the sound overall. This is one of the rarer times when a band of this caliber gains favor by softening their approach ever so slightly, but it’s not like these are the first times that Lo-Pan have ever lightened the mood a bit. What Subtle shows is not a relenting of their hardened spirit or a wide-spreading compromise in sound, instead it shows a band fleshing out their artistic abilities by adhering to the oft-ignored ‘less is more’ approach. Plus, no matter how you look at it, this album is still a veritable jukebox full of riffs that seem ready-made to kick ass. I love it.
I don’t want to keep you much longer – it’s time you could spend listening to this great album! Lo-Pan fans, be ready to be surprised a bit, but never let down. Fans of stoner or heavy rock and lovers of melody and earworms, you need to hear this. It’ll surely be among my top albums of the year as it exemplifies all the best elements in music of its ilk and turns it all into a head-nodding good time. Lo-Pan‘s sorcery of sound hasn’t dulled a bit!