Lo-Fi rock is always the most difficult to review out of all the genres; but here, LVL Up’s Return to Love is an album with 90s sensibilities, angst, huggable distortion, singing that slips in and out of the mix, more mood than deep lyrical content, and a blend of comfort vs. unease. To put it simply: if you didn’t like that last sentence, you probably will not like this album.
The album and the band have a very specific 90s, distorted lo-fi sound that I will admit is very defined. LVL UP is not trying to be anything special or do anything groundbreaking sonically at all. With that said, they stay in their lo-fi lane and keep it either soft or loud. So, if you don’t like the first song you hear from LVL UP, you will probably not like the rest. I will say that the best songs from this album are all ones where LVL UP takes a chance or tries something different. “Blur” has some great guitar work/riffs and a catchy form that makes you wish the song was longer. “I” and “Pain” are both more 90s rock that remind me of Weezer’s Pinkerton, especially lyrically. “Cut From the Vine”, my favorite pick of the album, has an early 2000s alternative ballad feel and the most memorable melody of the whole album. The album ends with the long 7 minutes of “Naked In the River With the Creator”. It passes as the drone vocals and organ carry the song with a mellow spirituality and then picks up with a wave-like guitar section. Those are the real stand outs, as the rest of the album is best described by the second sentence of this review.
The biggest problem with the non-stand out tracks is the reliance on the mood or feeling the tracks provide to make up for lyrical content that’s just not there. This is not a lyrically driven band, which the band seems to be aware of; it comes down to the emotion and mood brought together through the music and the occasional audible one-liner. Personally, I think that “Hidden Driver”, the song praised by most critics, is the worst since it’s a hit-or-miss mix with confusing, inaudible lyrics. What’s left is honestly just forgettable, since the lyrics aren’t that remarkable and the instrumentation is rather bland and not at all catchy.
To sum it up, LVL UP does solid every track on Return to Love with a small, distinguishing detail in each song to tell them apart. However, they seem to struggle when they make the not-so-great (but not terrible) lyrics front and center; they further confuse and disinterest the listener because of the lack of depth and inability to understand it.