“I hope my body is only a shell, a shadow at dusk, the ring of a bell.” So sings Lowland Hum, husband and wife Daniel and Lauren Goans, in their new song “Older, Wiser.” Lyrics like these, both subtle and intense, reflect the substance of their second full-length project, a self-titled album released this past April. As one reviewer put it, “It is a sin to take for granted the lyrics in this album.” Spilling out from one guitar and some incredible vocals, Lowland Hum’s wide-ranging music ultimately serves as a reminder of freedom, and grace, and death, and how all of it connects in a primal kind of web.

I first encountered Lowland Hum at a house concert here in Mockingbirdville. They were stomping on some homemade tambourine stages, singing with what Bob Boilen at NPR called the “sound of two people in love.” They’d handed out paperback lyric booklets so we could read along as they jammed to songs from their debut, Native Air, and the subsequent EP, Four Sisters. At that time, the Lowland Hum album was still in the works, but luckily it’s available now and features plenty of fresh sounds and some of the best poetry this ex-English major has seen in a long time.

Daniel and Lauren recently shared with us a brief peak into their own perspective of the album. Daniel explained that it explores, among other themes, instability: “We, and this new album, are concerned with how our creative process operates when our surroundings are constantly shifting.” And this process manifests in different ways through different songs:

In some songs, we aim to open up moments we’ve experienced on the road in hopes of fighting the isolation of constant travel. In others, we explore the effects of childhood experience and the ways they manifest in our current life stage. We also look into the creative process and how memory, experience and dream find their way into all the songs.”

The result is a diverse 13-track album that ultimately exudes a dreamlike quality in itself: layers of sounds, words, and symbols converge. Lowland Hum paves winding paths to the truth, but it’s the kind of art that you can keep digging into, deeper, and deeper.

In our interview, Daniel explained that the benefits and challenges of touring have significantly shaped their outlook as artists:

“It is vital to remember that my well-being and worth is not tied to how folks respond… Whatever part of me that wants every person everywhere to like what I do just can’t make it through a tour; it’s got to die. Performing brings my inadequacy and imperfection squarely into view on a regular basis. It’s helpful and keeps us realistic about how limited we are. We also have to let go of our ideas of where our career should go. When our culture’s idea of success is ‘bigger and better’ and our trajectory continues to exist in the obscure and intimate with very slow growth, our visions for grandiosity have to be released. We are most peaceful when we are living with this reality in mind.”

A critical theme on the new album is marriage: there’s no shortage of write-ups on how Daniel and Lauren’s marriage strengthens their music. However, theologian Paul Tillich points out in The Eternal Now that, despite circumstances, feelings of isolation are inherent to humanity: Citing Matthew 14:23, he writes: “‘…when the evening was come, [Jesus] was there, alone.’ So are we. Man is alone because he is man! In some way every creature is alone. In majestic isolation every star travels through the darkness of endless space.” Through their music, however, Lowland Hum gently seeks to reverse this stark sense of aloneness.

lh---promo-3-1-

Their own marriage is the most marked fight against isolation, but they also work to marry themes: their songs cradle life and death, and their intense lyrical questions linger under the unadulterated subtlety of their sound. They marry music with visual art, too: in creating the lyric booklets, for example, Lauren incorporates her “passion for making things with paper” into her passion for music.

Similarly, Daniel explained that the paintings of impressionist Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec played muse to at least two Lowland Hum songs. Interestingly, Toulouse-Lautrec is remembered not just for his art but also his painful circumstances: his brother’s death, his parents’ separation, and his own stunted growth. In their song “Lautrec,” Lowland Hum describes the artist: fragile cripple, miserable alcoholic, extraordinary painter. The song suggests that the painter may have used art to confront death, as a sort of abreactive process: Lowland Hum sings, “The death of your brother put the nail in the coffin… You smash all the mirrors, and you sing through the canvas.” Maybe, for Toulouse-Lautrec, art was a means of coping:

“Toulouse-Lautrec is probably my favorite painter and one of Lauren’s as well… Lautrec has a way of revealing a sort of disturbing undercurrent in many of the lively and vivacious scenes he painted.  Whether or not that was his intent, his paintings tell the truth in that way.”

Suspicious traces of Martin Luther echo in this language: Luther described the state of a Christian as simul justus et peccator, simultaneously justified and sinful — saint and sinner, all in one. Both Lowland Hum and Toulouse-Lautrec express a similar paradox: that a truthful rendition of the world holds both good and bad in the same space. On this, Daniel continued:

There is so much to explore, so many good things to discover and point to. On the flip side, we find love described as weeping with those who weep, so we have the opportunity to speak openly and honestly about the twisted and the depraved parts of ourselves.”

On an especially personal level, Toulouse-Lautrec impacted both the Goans’ marriage and Lowland Hum’s music:

“Our relationship began to shift from friendship into romance while Lauren was studying abroad in France. Shortly after we were married, we took a trip to the south of France… [to] Albi: Lautrec’s hometown. In Albi, there is an old castle-turned-museum where his work is showcased. Lauren has a background in visual art and spent a lot of time in that museum teaching me vocabulary and helping me identify some of what was moving me about the paintings and drawings…. Overall, I think our lyric writing has become increasingly imagistic because of Lauren’s influence, and Lautrec’s work, and the impression it left on me, is a part of that too.”

Marriage, art, freedom: all this, Lowland Hum seamlessly weaves throughout their new album.

In closing, Daniel admitted, “We are regularly humbled by our inadequacy and failure. And still we are given so much that we know we haven’t earned. We feel there is great freedom in acknowledging our shortcomings.” The result is a pool of songs telling stories of failure, confession, and forgiveness. Give Lowland Hum a listen; it’s good for the soul.