The first time I saw David Low’s Through a Glass Darkly was at a local open-mic nite at an inner west pub. The other acts ranged, as they are wont to do on a rough night, from passionate tunelessness through two-schooner-Bowies to bedroom romantics and beyond. Needless to say, Through a Glass Darkly shone, and I made a mental note to keep up with what the band were doing in the future.

What largely grabbed me that night were the songs written by guitarist and vocalist David Low. These were songs that came from an original place – songs that were informed by the past. Not the Stooges or Ramones past, but the artfully sophisticated songwriters of the past: McCartney, Elton John, David Bowie. Although delivered with a rock trio crunch, these songs had pop smarts and went somewhere. Low had done his homework and his grades were looking good.

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The danger of ambition in songwriting is that an alive mind can over-egg the mix and try to cram too many thoughts and ideas into three minutes (hence the success of Lennon-McCartney, Jagger-Richards etc where the frisson of clashing personalities does all the editing). The same goes for lyrics – what looks smart or poetic on paper can sound twee or clever-clever against three or four chords.

Low’s songs for Through a Glass Darkly on that open-mic nite had some moments of too-clever or too many ideas, but the promise was overwhelming. Recently grabbing a review copy of their debut – Double Standard –  I was glad to see these elements have been reined in to sharp effect.

What we have is a punchy, sleek modern rock album that occasionally blurs its edge into dark alt.country but has a shiny chrome-tattoo rock and roll heart. The beautiful design and packaging of my 12” vinyl LP copy (go on, spend the extra $$$, it’s worth it) shows the commitment Low and the band have to all aspects of the music.Through a glass darkly small

Opener ‘End of the Line’ immediately struck me as unique in that mixer Luis Rojas has sat the vocal just below the churning guitars. This references much classic rock of the 70s – think Bowie’s ‘Watch That Man’ or anything from Lou Reed’s Rock and Roll Animal, the effect being of the voice fighting to stay atop the guitars – a highly dramatic and effective mix.

The classic rock atmosphere wraps around many of the songs here – ‘Double Standard’ and ‘Antisocialism’ bring the tough but creamy USA crunch of the Foo Fighters (a sound which in turn references everyone from Boston to Judas Priest). Low’s production and bassist/keys man Lachy Street’s recording keeps analog grit and heart to the forefront. The bass is mighty, Amelia Sim’s drums are fat as phat and the guitars are literally drooling mid-tones (a big gold star from me, Mr Low). TAGD’s take on the legend of ‘Stagger Lee’ could just be the best ZZ Top song they never recorded.

‘Dark Country’ at first seems a cry-in-your tequila pastiche – a minor key country tune of heartbreak – and would be if the lyric was ironic in any way. But it is not, and the song has heart. Lyrically, the whole album, while having some clever fun with pop-culture and words themselves, has enough heart to remain very human.

Many of Low’s song-characters are complex, doubling back on their feelings – while the music struts with confidence, the lyrics mottle the songs with enough doubt and human imperfection to keep it interesting.

Double Standard lives up to the promise of the band I saw many months ago on that small stage in Newtown. I am confident that it will take Through a Glass Darkly to larger and larger stages in the near future – this music is built for stadiums and nothing less.

Through a Glass Darkly launch Double Standard at The Town Hall Hotel, Newtown on Saturday August 3 with special guests Scarlet’s Revenge and Upside Down Miss Jane.

Their website is throughaglassdarklymusic.com/

Published July 2013 on theorangepress.net

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