It’s cliché, but the age of the internet may be the greatest and worst thing to ever happen to music. For the listener, this is a renaissance, where most all music is at your fingertips for a fraction of what it once cost — that is, if you pay for your music at all. But for the music creator, the music industry is an absolute hellscape. Sure, it has never been easier to distribute your work with sites like SoundCloud, YouTube and Spotify providing convenient platforms to test-drive a music career. But this age of extreme accessibility results in perhaps the most competitive atmosphere for artists in music history. With thousands upon thousands of musicians clamoring to make it to the top, it can feel impossible to get enough exposure to break out of the underground. Worst of all, many online music services do nothing to help budding artists with their publicity problems, concentrating song recommendations toward established artists.
Unsurprisingly, I only discovered the rock band Lever by pure chance. Topping out at about five-hundred monthly listeners on Spotify, the odds of the app suggesting their music to me were nonexistent. Instead, my path to discovering Lever began with a small Reddit post promoting an obscure Italian rock band’s new album. My curiosity led me to this band’s Facebook page, where I came across a post about a radio event featuring several similar bands, including Lever. Fronted by singer and guitarist Jon Babin, Lever consists of a cast of unknowns, with Jeff Aquino on guitar and backing vocals, Brandon Erker on bass and Michael Reinhold on drums. When I first gave Lever a listen, I couldn’t believe my ears. With excellent production, catchy song writing and an overall killer sound, Lever is a hidden gem, and once they push through the initial algorithmic barriers that plague bands in the internet age, they may even have the potential to become one of the significant rock bands of our generation.
Lever’s second album, Douse, is a bit slippery genre-wise, venturing into modern grunge, punk and metal, yet staying rooted in the band’s nascent sound concept. Lever has made some significant strides in maturing their group style since their 2015 debut, Hover Bored, but there are still moments throughout Douse that feel like they’re coasting in the slipstream of musical titans that Lever cites as influences on their website: The Beatles, Led Zeppelin and Nirvana. There are clear influences from yet other bands that they don’t explicitly mention. For instance, “Story Untold” would feel just as at home on a 2000s album by pop-punk acts like Green Day or The Killers. Not to mention guitarist and singer Jon Babin’s vocals, which invite comparison with the nasally Billy Corgan of The Smashing Pumpkins. That’s not to say that Lever is entirely imitative of other artists, rather that it may take some more time before they reach their potential and exact niche within the larger musical community. Sonically, the band’s style is unique, but their lyrics haven’t fully ripened, and they don’t seem entirely sure of who they want their audience to be. During the latter half of Douse this is most apparent, where it feels almost as though Lever goes through an identity crisis with the unexpected crunchy metal tracks “Fall” and “And I,” followed promptly by the folky “Young & Poor.” Admittedly, this genre-melding feels refreshing, at least once you get past the whiplash. The juxtaposed styles add new dimensions of character that color outside the lines drawn up in the grungy opening half of the album.
Lever may be trapped in the depths of Spotify hell for some time to come, but this says a lot more about Spotify than it does about Lever’s music. Douse showcases this band’s enormous potential, and given enough room to continue to grow, this band could even become important for rock and roll, rather than fleeting participants in music. If this band manages to stick it out, a time will come when the very platform that confines them to obscurity will start to connect them with their eventual audience. Perhaps one day aspiring young artists will list Lever as a major influence on their music, alongside musical idols of the past.