Album Review: Lowlife – Payday

Payday is an album built on musical freedom and friendship, from three young British lads (Jordan Cardy aka Ratboy, Liam Haygarth and Harry Todd) raised on cars, skateboarding and Beastie Boys. With no expectations, the group recorded their debut album with no pressure to meet a certain sound, allowing them to throw in every influence under the sun to create an album of loud, hip-hop leaning alternative music with brash punk spirit.

Opener “Sometimes” explodes with Beastie-style verse trading over a Black Sabbath sample. Lowlife seamlessly trade vocals in a way that makes them sound like a true unit, and never allow a dull moment to befall the track. And while they could have allowed the song to be a banger all the way through, the group sneaks in a somber acoustic bridge that adds a hint of Latin texture to the thrash-hop number. The melange of influences also permeates “Elon”, with electro-pop, rock, hip-hop and reggae rhythms making for a great, head-bobbing journeyman track (lyrics like “I don’t know where we’ll go if we keep going down the same old road” work both in the literal sense, as the track is perfect for cruising, but could also apply to our society in a greater sense).

The psych-haze chorus and reggae vibes of “Feel it Again” make for a heady trip, with the hard rock breakdowns keeping the melody from drifting off too far. And as the group jointly sings “I’m lost in my dumb luck”, it evokes the sense of lower class kids scrambling and hustling their way to a career off of sheer audacity and good fortune. There’s a similar hypnotic aura to “Payday”, with its children’s choir chorus and dub elements, but the song’s recollection of betrayal hits an emotional nerve (“Now I know what I know/I would never call you a friend/Till the end I would have backed you up/But you lied”). The band’s street reggae/rap sound continues later in the album in tracks like the police-indictment “Street Justice (“When they murder in the prison, say it was a suicide…so tell me who is the real threat?”), and the Tim Armstrong-assisted cruising song “Sirens”.

The band’s most pop-leaning track is the energetic punk anthem “American Dreamer”, with it’s crunchy rock riffs and stadium-ready drums. The sarcastic track takes a swipe at the American healthcare system, as well as its focus on riches and beauty (“A trophy wife and a TV dealer. I want to be an American dreamer”), but does so with such a catchy hook that Americans will certainly still sing along with boundless glee. This could have been a classic Rancid single in the nineties, but would be a great Lowlife single today.

At times the tracks here are so stuffed with ideas that they risk crumbling underneath the weight of this excess, with songs sounding so busy that any nuances are buried underneath the overflow. Thankfully the band balances the busyness with moments of stripped-back arrangements that allow the music (and the listeners) ample time to breathe and absorb what they are hearing.

Throughout Payday, there is a playful energy. Whether it’s from the plunking pianos on “Afterglow” or the sunny, sing-song melody on “Merry Go”, it’s clear the band is having a blast with these songs, and those positive vibes shine through in the music. Even on the most hard-scrabble tracks like the R&B-ish survival anthem “Skate Store”, one can’t help but have a good time listening and entering into Lowlife‘s world.

The album is out on Hellcat Records tomorrow, November 18th. Listen to the pre-released tracks here!

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