Allan Lewis has always been one for not telling. In a culture where people share nearly everything about their lives, Lewis likes to keep things to himself. It’s this sense of secrecy that sets the tone for Van der Saar, his project of the last six years. Recording in his Toronto apartment, Lewis mixes guitar, piano and synthesizer with electronic drums to produce music that speaks on his behalf.
The Van der Saar sound is one of contrast. From the earliest releases, the songs have carried an unmistakable mixture of sadness and optimism. Unusual gusts of dissonance subvert elegiac melodies delivered in Lewis’ delicate, wobbly tenor. The result is a unique and unexpected feeling of uplift.
After two EPs recorded on cassette four-track, Lewis took a notable step forward with the 2009 LP, Red Circle. He’s acknowledged the album as the closest he’s come to the atmosphere he’s been trying to create since starting Van der Saar.
On his newest EP, Lowpass, Lewis continues in the same vein as Red Circle, moving listeners ever closer to his vision for Van der Saar. Where Red Circle, described by Lewis as “pop songs lost on drugs in a forest,” loosely chronicles a specific time in his life, Lowpass addresses where Lewis has been since then. “Red Circle was about living in Scotland,” he says. “It was a great time, but a lot of madness went down, too. Lowpass is about life once that madness went away.“
Outwardly, things seem to have settled down for Lewis. On Lowpass, he continues to experiment with his craft, and sounds less desperate about life. The characters in these songs are examined in an observational style reminiscent of Blur. Listeners glimpse the stubborn protagonist of ‘St. George’, a traveler on a flight to nowhere in ‘Sansico’, and a beach bum’s party-for-one in ‘Surf Song’. Throughout Lowpass, a distinct mood prevails, addressing the desolation of modern life with hope and anticipation.
True to Van der Saar form, Lowpass focuses on specific feelings and situations while remaining cautious in its revelations. Once more, it’s the sound of a person giving away important parts of himself, though never in too great a quantity. “It’s easier for me to do this than to tell people what I’m thinking,” says Lewis. “And even then, I’m not very direct. In the end, it’s just music. It’s fun to play, fun to sit here and make these recordings and see what I come up with; see what people think.”
Lowpass is available for free or paid download from the VdS Bandcamp page: vandersaar.bandcamp.com
More VdS info: myspace.com/thisisvandersaar;
thisisvandersaar at gmail dot com