The Minnesotan trio progress through shades of light on a fine ninth LP.
Daniel Ross 2011
The Minnesotan trio Low have long been referred to as pioneers of ‘slowcore’, a glacially indolent branch of indie rock, but in truth they’ve grown far beyond that mis-applied tag. A back catalogue as varied as theirs demonstrates it easily. Their last few albums particularly, from the apocalyptically dark Trust from 2002 to 2007’s electronically savage and deceptively poppy Drums and Guns, via 2005’s rocktageous The Great Destroyer, have shown that their sense of style has been governed more by melody, harmony and lyrical themes than simply by meandering tempi. It would be difficult to predict in which direction they might take a new album, and that’s something they’re not given enough credit for.
C’mon, their ninth LP, is not as musically adventurous as previous works, but it is among their most emotionally direct and immediately satisfying. Pinging glockenspiel and aching guitar chords herald the album’s opening and create tenderness so readily that by the time husband and wife Alan Sparhawk and Mimi Parker’s vocal harmonies arrive, they’re a mere bonus. Close attention to their vocals on that opening track, Try to Sleep, suggests a very human intimacy that wasn’t present on the worldlier Drums and Guns. Mentions of cameras and allusions to forced insomnia sprout palpable, drowsy warmth, and make this as strong a beginning as the band has ever recorded.
The record continues in this vein, with only occasional lunges into the gloominess with which they’re chiefly associated. Witches stands out as a noisier cousin of Sunflower, from 2001’s impeccable Things We Lost in the Fire, with similarly violent undertones. "When you’ve finally submitted to embarrassing capture, take out that baseball bat and show those witches some pasture," sings Sparhawk, coolly, over quivering, perfectly restrained guitar distortion. Despite the latent anger the words suggest, it’s delivered stridently, with Sparhawk’s time in his garage rock side-project Retribution Gospel Choir unleashing more volume than we might have expected.
They progress through shades of light effortlessly across C’mon. Sunlight stretches over the sweet, slow pop of Done, while something notably duskier envelops the plod of Majesty/Magic, but both show off Low’s now-perfected ability to harness tension and tweak their own performance for maximum impact. The light may even switch to buzzing neon on Nightingale, which could quite easily be rolled out just before closing time at a grubby haunt. Variable as they may be on this strong collection, the elements that bind are the clarity of the performance and the simplicity of the songs – emotionally the band is staring the listener in the eye. ‘Slowcore’ might be what people call them, but Low have grown beautifully beyond that, and will grow more still.