Who: Chris Mason (guitar, vocals), Joe Ayoub (guitar, vocals), Sam George (drums), Jay Castaldi (bass).
Sounds like: Nineties pop punk getting better with age.
For fans of: Scared of Chaka, Hickey, the Marked Men.
After a dozen years in Las Cruces, N.M., where he played in bands, booked shows and ran a label, Low Culture co-frontman Chris Mason was ready for a change.
"Me and a small group of people built a positive scene that was incredibly fun," Mason says. "I was just kind of feeling like, at 34, I was ready to live somewhere that already had a flourishing scene."
So in 2014, about a year after Low Culture released Screens, one of the finest pop-punk albums of the decade, Mason moved to Portland, followed by drummer Sam George. Mason then claimed recent Chicago transplant Jay Castaldi as Low Culture's new bass player, which left guitarist Joe Ayoub, who wrote and sang half the songs on Screens, in El Paso, Texas.
This geography lesson is necessary to understand the greatness of Low Culture's new album, Places to Hide. While it retains the keen melodic edge of Screens, which combined classic '90s pop punk and the contemporary grit of the band's label, Dirtnap Records, Places to Hide is a less frantic and more focused record—apparently the result of Mason being forced to go it alone in a new city.
"The vast majority of this record was written without the band, because they weren't here," he says. "So I was demoing stuff in my basement with a drum machine. Often I would come up with the song structure, and while listening to it I'd come up with a vocal melody."
You can sense the added breathing room on Places to Hide. It's still loud-and-proud punk rock, but Mason is clearly testing his melodic range. There's not a dud on the record, and it should make Portland proud to call Low Culture its own. Mason will be OK if his band stays under the radar, though.
"I love doing this," he says. "It's something I've always wanted to do. And I get to do it. How exciting is that? It's never crossed my mind to stop."
SEE IT: Low Culture plays the Know, 2026 NE Alberta St., 503-473-8729, with Divers, Piss Test and Steel Chains, on Thursday, Sept. 8. 8 pm. Contact venue for ticketing information. 21+.