Tonally wavy, effectually angry, affectionately fierce, professional, immature, timeless, just passing by. These are just a few ways to describe Soul Low’s new album, Nosebleeds.
The album (released early last August) pulls the listener along an angst-driven journey through adolescent awakenings—the realizations we have on the cusp of maturity—and revels in its own youthful wisdom. The Milwaukee band has made major steps in becoming a recognizable presence in their hometown. With creatively ornamented albums like Nosebleeds, their musical presence has been nationally lauded and exposed to a wide audience.
The pilot track, “Frenemies,” begins with a drudging pace and Jake Balistrieri’s unique, seemingly inebriated voice explaining the hazards of combining drugs with love: “that’s how it works/ and when it hurts/ it does change us/ I wanna be with you/ but when it’s done.” Despite the temporary highs, the lows of any relationship are pushed lower with drug use; to tell someone that you don’t want to be with them until the drugs wear off should be a wake-up call to both parties. Balistrieri echoes the frustration that follows such a conversation when he sings, “I got nothin’ but an attitude/ cuz you’re my friend/ but you’re my enemy.” While Sean Hirthe’s input on the keys echoes the background of the chorus with a shade of hope, the reality is that no life can be entirely void of friendly complications, and in those situations it’s best to buck up and hash out the differences.
The trouble is, this doesn’t always happen. Attitudes and pride often get in the way of our social well-being and that concept feeds into Nosebleeds’ second track, “Tied in Knots.” Watery tones from Balistrieri’s guitar, Hirthe’s drip-drip keys, Charlie Celenza’s splashy percussion and a bassline from Sam Gehrke that reminds me of trying to hold a freshly-caught walleye in your hands—all these elements produce this pearl of a song that openly criticizes virtual reality.
Balistrieri suggests that the listeners “Don’t get tied in knots/ trying to be popular/ cuz you’re not/ You look so good online/ but in life you’re behind.” In contemporary days when millions of people create their own image on the Internet we find ourselves assuming false identities that are counterproductive to the development of our actual realities; there are dangers in and on the screen and if we’re not careful we’ll get caught like fish in a net.
“Be Like You” propels this idea further by examining the mindset of someone who wants to protect and promote their own qualities and in turn doesn’t want to have the qualities of another person, but ultimately accepts that those other qualities are also part of who they are. Soul Low raises questions about identity that are enamored by the present; technology may be in the process of uniting us, but little, individual, neurological wires are the victims of such a union.
My favoritism, however, lay with “Let the Wind Blow,” a soul-destroying and unfortunate aria about an unstable but loving mother and an adolescent that muses about older life. An a capella intro states, “Quiet the only way to sing/ dying the only way to be/ do you believe in me/ will I live past twenties/ do I want to get old/ I’d rather die young.” To question death at such a young age as one’s twenties seems a mistake, but a depressive mindset tends to promote an early demise. The story of the mother is sad, and I don’t suggest reading the rest of the lyrics unless you want a tear brought to your eye. But the rest of the song is horribly beautiful and speaks for those with depression across every generation.
Other honorable mentions from Nosebleeds are “Ritalin Kids,” which hosts three voiceless choruses that Hirthe occupies with colorful and diverse sax solos, “The Adulterer,” which is Balistrieri’s most dynamically impressive vocal track, and “Hard to Gage,” a soft and beautifully simple song to a distant lover. Nosebleeds was released on Gloss Records and is the second full-length album from Soul Low and, undoubtedly, not the last.