A veteran of several Montreal bands of the ’80s and ’90s, Andrew Steinmetz now presents his own five-song EP titled Record Low. More than just a nod to lo-fi recording, Steinmetz has embraced a simpler approach to recording by first trying out song ideas for a couple weeks, then diving in headfirst to nail each track in (preferably) one take. He explains: “I’m very serious in my belief that the first take is the deepest. I rarely re-record. Mistakes and noise on the track is better than overproduction or pretentiousness to me.”
As far as “lo-fi” goes, I’d have to say I’ve heard a lot worse; what Steinmetz achieves is intimacy and immediacy. However he’s far from alone: his recording band includes himself on vocals and guitar, brother Peter Steinmetz on “bass, lazy tambourine and encouragement” and - most strikingly - Paul Ciechanowski on bass, strings and accordion arrangements. Ciechanowski is the secret weapon on this album, as his accordion opens up the sound wonderfully. Files were swapped between Ottawa, Montreal and Seattle using Logic with Steinmetz mixing on the spot. “Noise left like blood on the tracks was good enough for Glenn Gould and so it's good enough for me.”
Steinmetz’s album title has another meaning: he says these songs are “the lo-fi recording of low moments past and present.” So there’s that. In the title track he pronounces “Record Low” as in vinyl record, an interesting twist. Acoustic guitars strum and chime away with Steinmetz’s laid back, '90s style vocals following along with what sounds like a distant drum machine. “Who-iz Hungry” is a slow bluesy tune that recalls the White Album acoustic demos. Steinmetz’s voice is especially appealing here in an early Randy Newman-John Prine style, folksy and real, sounding much older than his given age.
“Family Folk” kicks in with a fun story about growing up, thematically just like an Amazon novel I read called “Free Range” by Steve McMoyler. “Haircuts by the same old man / we just called him Dad / My brothers chased me through the yard / they trapped me by the door / we just called that war.” This song marks the first appearance by Paul Ciechanowski: his bass, accordion and horn sounds really flesh out this heartwarming tune.
“Those You Left Behind” has a classic folk construction with plaintive harmonies and dark minor chords. “Those we leave behind / Are never that far / look up high / who’s that hanging from the stars?” Ciechanowski’s understated accordion and ersatz horns again lift the song a few notches. The concluding “Weaker Thing” has a structure so close to a George Harrison solo tune (“Give Me Love”?) that it’s hard for me to take it on its own merits. The more original chorus is engaging, if slightly out of tune.
Clearly Steinmetz has succeeded in creating a short lo-fi classic. His songwriting bonafides are obvious, and I’d love to hear him try a different experiment where his songs might shine through in a clearer light.
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