We’re late on this one. Really late. 20 years, to be exact.
But, man, it’s worth the wait.
For years, Lowrider and its sole album (at the time), Ode to Io, showed up in our recommendations, but we never gave it a proper listen.
We’ve finally given Ode to Io a spin from start to finish, and the experience was one of the best first listens we’ve had in a while. We just had to cover it.
But before we get to the album, let’s cover a brief history of the band.
A Quick History of Lowrider
Stoner Rock was born in the western deserts of the US in the early 1990s (depending on how you sketch your timeline), and it didn’t take long for the sound to cross the Atlantic and hit Europe. German Stoner Rock icons Colour Haze formed in 1994, and Swedish touchstones Dozer joined together the following year.
Around that same time, bassist/singer/composer Peder Bergstrand, lead guitarist/singer Ole Hellquist, guitarist Niclas Stalfors, and drummer Andreas Eriksson got together to form a band called Lowrider.
The band was a celebration of all that was Stoner Rock, and it first cut its teeth in the studio by sharing a split EP in 1999 with Nebula, a band started by guitarist Eddie Glass and drummer Ruben Romano (formerly of Fu Manchu).
On the Lowrider half, the songs chug along for five minutes at a time, giving the band enough room to inject small doses of Psychedelia and Space Rock into what it is otherwise a rather ernest impression of Kyuss (with arguably more interesting guitar work).
But the split EP was only a warm-up. Later in the year, Lowrider returned to the studio to record Ode to Io, which released in 2000.
2000 was a busy year. The band toured with Dozer and Spiritual Beggars, released Ode to Io, and then they sort of disappeared. The band surfaced a few times in the 2010s for shows, but that was about it.
Then, in 2020, the band released Refractions, six tracks of Stoner Rock goodness. Now that the album’s out, it’s not clear whether they’ll ghost us again, but at least we have two strong albums and an EP to enjoy in the meantime.
Ode to Io Review
Reviews were mixed when the album dropped in 2000. Detractors panned the record for being a boilerplate ripoff of Kyuss, with British music publication Kerrang! sarcastically awarding them the “Most Convincing Kyuss Clones Award.”
Kerrang! isn’t wrong. Ode to Io does sound an awful lot Welcome to Sky Valley– and Blues for the Red Sun-era Kyuss mixed with the moody unpredictability of …And The Circus Leaves Town.
Although the sound itself may be relatively unoriginal, the fact doesn’t preclude Ode to Io from being a fine album in its own right.
As we’ll see in a moment, Ode to Io may even be a finer album than Welcome to Sky Valley or Blues for the Red Sun. While these two albums are rightfully praised (and the latter for its groundbreaking status within Stoner Rock), Lowrider benefits from simple time. The band had nearly an entire decade of classic Stoner Rock before churning out their own record.
About the Title
Before we get into the album, though, let’s talk about the title. It’s not clear exactly which part of the Io legend Lowrider is most impressed with, but here are the facts behind Io.
The ancient Greek legend goes something like this: Io was the daughter of Inachus and the priestess of Hera, Zeus’s wife. One day, Zeus noticed her and was immediately smitten. After making an advance on her, Io turned him down. Inachus heard about it and threw her out of the house.
This is where the story gets tangled, depending on who you’re talking to. Some say Zeus decided to turn Io into a cow so he could hide her in plain sight. Some say Hera turned her into a cow out of jealousy. Whoever did it, Io turned into a cow.
Eventually, Hera decided to send a fly down to torment Io so she could never rest. While trying in vain to escape the fly, she came across Prometheus, who promised that one day she’d be restored into a human. Finally, while in Egypt, Io reconnected with Zeus. Zeus turned her back into a human and impregnated her. Io then gave birth to Epaphus and Keroessa.
While her story is exciting, we doubt this is why Lowrider decided to dedicate an album to her.
Astrology and Modern Times
The ancients associated Io with the moon, and that relation still exists in some capacity today. Io is one of Jupiter’s moons and is known for being the most active volcanic body in the solar system.
The history of Io the moon is perhaps even more interesting than the mythological tale. Galileo Galilei discovered what would eventually be called Io and a few other moons surrounding Jupiter at the same time. Based partially on this observation, Galileo determined that the
Earth revolves around the sun—an idea that forever changed the course of humanity.
Ode to Io: Song by Song
With all of that out of the way, let’s jump into the album.
Track 1: Caravan
Listening to the opening riff on “Caravan” stirs up one word: iconic. It’s ballsy. It’s chaotic. It’s packed with dread and distortion, and it promises something much bigger along the way. When the high note rings out and the bass and drums stop, the resulting silence creates a small vacuum of panic.
The vocals are pained and aching. Peder Bergstrand isn’t much more a vocalist than John Garcia (Kyuss) or Fredrik Nordin (Dozer), but the formula works. The guitars, bass, drums, and vocals all mesh seamlessly together.
With “Caravan,” the Kyuss influence is unmistakable, even down to the solos. The guitar solo pumped out at 2:06 sounds nearly identical to anything Josh Homme would have produced early in his career. And don’t forget about the drums. Andreas Eriksson pounds the kit like Brant Bjork, with a determined energy behind every beat.
Track 2: Flat Earth
“Flat Earth” is the perfect soundtrack for marching right off the planet and drifting out into space. The beat and riff storm straight ahead in perfect harmony through the intro, then, once the song is up and running, tinges of Psychedelia push you into the cosmos.
“Flat Earth” may not be the best song on the album (although you could easily make a case for it), but it is by far the most interesting.
For one, “Flat Earth” is firmly rooted in Stoner Rock, but there are pieces of Space Rock floating through the soundscape. The mention of “talking to planets” may be a direct reference to Monster Magnet’s “Ego, the Living Planet” (which came out five years before Ode to Io), where the only line in the song is, “I talk to planets, baby!”
For all of the similarities Lowrider shares with Kyuss, “Flat Earth” coasts into territories Kyuss never really explored. The breakdown in “Flat Earth” thumbs along with a comfortable drum and bass line, but the guitar solo sounds more like Pink Floyd with its psychedelic carelessness. Once the solo is over, the Kyuss connection returns. The song picks up with swirling guitars, much like it does in Kyuss’s “Asteroid” or “Odyssey.”
Track 3: Convoy V
“Convoy V” is drenched in fuzz and erupts with energy—an energetic peak we haven’t quite reached so far on the album. If you don’t like the cliché Stoner Rock song breakdown, skip to “Dust Settlin'” at the 3:50 mark.
Track 4: Dust Settlin’
On the very first listen, it’s obvious “Dust Settlin’” is going to be something special. The track opens with an infectious riff, then it’s elevated by a growing drum roll. Finally, a tiny bit of space open, and then Bergstrand cries out into the void.
Like “Flast Earth,” “Dust Settlin’” is Kyuss+. Kyuss is the obvious inspiration, but Lowrider pushes the envelope a little further, especially when it comes to the guitar work. Skip to 3:55 for a face-melting guitar solo you wouldn’t hear on a Kyuss album.
But the best part of the song: Bergstrand’s refrain of “Dust… Settles so slow!”
Don’t be surprised if you find yourself singing it later on.
Track 5: Sun Devil
“Sun Devil” is an intermission track that is unique for being almost entirely a single acoustic guitar. If you haven’t listened to it yet, the sun-drenched riffs sound like Clint Eastwood hitting pause on a draw to step into a saloon for one last shot of whiskey.
Lowrider admits that “Sun Devil” could have been something more, but they couldn’t figure out what to do with it before their time in the studio was up. Still, they couldn’t manage to part with it. They loved the Soundgarden vibe so much, its working title was “Lowgarden.”
Fortunately, Lowrider figured it out in time for Refractions. You can check out the two side-by-side below:
Track 6: Anchor
If we’re still comparing Lowrider to other bands, “Anchor” actually sounds more like Dozer (a fellow Swedish Stoner Rock band) than it does Kyuss. Take a listen and you’ll quickly notice the similarities.
Track 7: Texas Pt. I & II
“Texas Pt. I & II” starts with a murmuring, almost fumbling guitar and light, vacant vocals. There’s a sense of mystery in the sound, and a faint hum in the background makes you wonder what’s coming next. As the longest track on Ode to Io (at 7:35), “Texas Pt. I & II” takes its time meandering across multiple soundscapes, starting slow, then erupting, then quieting to a simple bass line, then exploding into a wash of sound. The vocals are distant and prophetic, and the overall sound at times inches the band into Metal territory.
Track 8: Riding Shotgun
Listening to “Riding Shotgun” reminds us that we haven’t covered enough Fu Manchu on this site. The Fu Manchu influence is unmistakable.
The song opens with cowbell and a lone, fuzzy guitar. Fu Manchu.
The drums are simple and deliberate. Fu Manchu.
The lyrics are softly sung and nearly spoken. Fu Manchu.
The fuzzy guitars swirl in and out of solos, and the song works in a neat quiet-loud-quiet template. Fu Manchu (and a whole lot of the Alternative Rock that happened in the ‘90s).
Track 9: Saguaro
“Saguaro” pulls us out of the album by opening with a transistor radio. Once they hit the right channel, the fuzz erupts. Although “Saguaro” isn’t an instrumental track, it sometimes feels like one. The riffs pump a little harder, the drum rumble a little louder, the bass thumps a little bigger, and Bergstrand masks his vocals in a few layers of effects.
Track 10: Ode to Io
Finally, we reach the title track. “Ode to Io” is a powerful instrumental track that takes a slow, steady approach to building what is ultimately the final climax of the album. The exploration from the first four minutes of the song pays off when the band begins to layer sound over sound over sound, creating an intoxicating cocktail of swirling guitars and drum beats. If you love hard-driving Stoner Rock, everything after the 4-minute mark is pure joy. Listening to “Ode to Io” makes you want to start the entire album over again—exactly what you want from the final track of an album.
Pros: The members of Lowrider obviously spent the ‘90s listening to the best Stoner Rock available (especially Kyuss and Fu Manchu), then boiled down all of the best elements into their own blend of Stoner Rock. “Ode to Io” is a hard-driving Stoner Rock album, and it even manages to throw a few surprises into the mix. This is an incredibly strong debut album, and it’s a shame we had to wait 20 years for a follow-up.
Cons: There are certain concepts here that could be better explored with a little more time in the studio. “Sun Devil” is OK as an interlude, but the Refractions version is proof that the band could have done much more with it back in 2000. Starting “Saguaro” with the radio clips is an interesting touch, but it adds little to the rest of the album (for an example of radio clips having a positive influence on the overall experience, check out Queens of the Stone Age’s Songs for the Deaf). “Sun Devil” works as a brief intermission, but “Texas Pt. I & II” could perform just as well, especially with its built-in lulls. Overall, Ode to Io is a strong album, but it suffers slightly from the band running out of time.