Music Review: Lo Tom by Lo Tom
The concept of an underground Christian music super group is strange enough as is, but, when the complexities of each member’s relationship with the faith are taken into account, the weirdness factor only increases. Lo Tom is made up of members of Pedro The Lion, Starflyer 59, The Soft Drugs and His Name Is Alive and the band connections between these four gentlemen are varied and wide and go back for quite a while. The most notable member and lead singer of Lo Tom is David Bazan who is, sadly, probably most known as the wayward son of Christian music. Many (including myself), however, would say that while his output with Pedro was a breath of fresh air in the wake of the suffocating CCM industry, it is his post-Pedro, post–faith solo output that has showcased just how great of a songwriter and performer he really is.
On the other side of the band’s musical coin is Jason Martin who is the only constant member of the shoegaze/dream pop band, Starflyer 59. Starflyer’s “Silver” self-titled debut from 1994 can be found on many top shoegaze album lists. Martin is one of those Christian musicians who strikes me as someone who understood the difference between using one’s faith as a type of branding and allowing his faith to speak however it so willed into his music. Direct mentions are sparse in his catalog. I, personally, have always been drawn to Martin’s matter of fact interview style and his ability to make the faith feel tangible and contextualized within everyday life. And, simply put, Starflyer 59 is probably in my top all-time bands.
So when the idea of a collaboration between Bazan and Martin, filled out with T. W. Walsh (The Soft Drugs) and Trey Many (His Name Is Alive)—both of whom I was largely unfamiliar with until this band formed—came about, I was absolutely enthralled. When I listened to each of these bands, I had fantasies about the makeup of their collaborative sound and I must admit, I wasn’t completely able to piece the puzzle together until the album came out. What we get, however, is an upbeat and joyful exercise in, well, having fun making music.
There is nothing showy about Lo Tom’s sound. It’s not even significantly different than other bands’ sounds in the musical marketplace. However, unlike many of those other rock bands, Lo Tom sounds like a group of guys who are deeply familiar with each other’s styles and strengths and wanted to have fun, together, making good music and it shows. The sound is effortless and without pretension. There are guitar sounds and riffs that would strike a chord with Starflyer’s fans and the cheeky, but often profound, lyrical veracity from Pedro and Bazan. Round it out with swaggering drumming and bass lines that draw all of the other instruments together in a propulsive whole and the result is, easily, one of the best albums of the year.
All of these guys have a history of multitudes of side projects and I am just selfish enough to hope that this album is not just a one-time affair, because if Lo Tom keeps making music, they could quickly become implanted in my top favorite bands. Their music makes me happy and yet the lyrics swell with meaning if one has ears to hear—because they are often deceptively simple. With only 8 songs, the album’s 29-minute runtime is such that it’s not unusual for me to end up listening to the album two or three times in a row without stopping. The more I listen, the more I want to listen. And, currently, that is a musical oddity for me, which is why I cannot say enough about why everyone should buy this album and rock it endlessly.