Belgium’s Down The Lees began as a solo project for composer and multi-instrumentalist Laura Lee Schultz, which makes sense the first time you hear “Antiseptic Heart.” It’s got a devastating slow-core solitude, both sonically and lyrically. Schultz came up in Vancouver’s indie venues, gradually widening her orbit to include eastern Canada and most of the US, touring with her previous bands. Now, she’s based in Belgium, where the live music scene is “thriving.” After two full-length albums and an EP, Bury The Sun (out September 13th) is Down The Lees’ first LP with a full live band performance. Together, they’ve got Hum and Unwound’s way with dynamics and PJ Harvey’s beautifully brutal honesty. Once in Belgium, Schultz found drummer Jonathan Frederix and bassist Kwinten Gluehorse, and the two bring math rock and hardcore’s tension and directness. It’s the perfect backdrop for Schultz’s guitar work – she wrings a lonely life’s worth of emotion out of her Jaguar, with sparse plucked notes and big, raw chord progressions.
“Antiseptic Heart” is a major display of the band’s power. Laura says, “‘Antiseptic Heart’ is a song about artists feeling vulnerable and trolls throwing negative, hurtful comments at them. We as artists, have to have a thick skin, and sometimes, the skin isn’t thick enough. Forcing them to quit making their art or worse, quit life.” Fortunately, when it came to committing it to tape, it was placed in the right hands. Bury The Sun was recorded and mixed by Steve Albini at Electrical Audio, and as always, he let a great song stand on its own and got out of its way. The quiet verses are just as intense as the overdriven, shoe-gazer choruses. Schultz goes from breathy, plaintive melodies to belting it out, as the pedals kick on and freezing sheets of rain crash over the song. Between the dynamic upheaval and fiercely personal lyrics, there’s a whole lot of injury here, clawing to get out. But pain is never more pronounced than when it’s just barely held in check. The track feels like a not-so-distant descendent of Low’s absolute best stuff or something off Seam’s legendary, still-untouchable The Problem With Me.
The band occupies a stage in what could be any tiny rock club. Schultz wonders: “Antiseptic Heart… who has mine? Who has mine?” Her question goes unanswered because they’re playing to a crowd of no one. Is this symbolic of the isolation of someone who stands alone against “the tragically unkind”? Or is it a nod to every road-tested indie rock outfit who’s found themselves in this exact situation all too frequently? Maybe it’s both, maybe that’s up to us to figure out. Director Sam Baguet alternates between muted, desaturated tones for the verses, and stark black and white for the harsh, gorgeous choruses. Lights flash across the band like an approaching thunderstorm, and they play right into it, defiant. The squalls of feedback and growling bass chords may be bouncing off the back wall here, but something tells us this track flattens the crowds lucky enough to catch these three live.