January 28, 2005

Shortcut - Low

Although it may not be representative of their previous recorded output, my first impression of the band Low is one of enchantment. Like the veteran trio from Duluth, Minnesota, their new album The Great Destroyer is complex and can be appreciated in both its sum and for its constituent parts.

On their seventh LP and first for Sub Pop, the torch-bearers of "slowcore" meld that genre's delicate heaviness with Beach-Boys inflections, melancholic and bitter rock missives, and keyboard and electronic flourishes provided by producer Dave Fridmann. This diversity is thrown into greater relief when listening to the vocal harmonies of guitarist Alan Sparhawk and drummer Mimi Parker, who are married. One admires the kind of couple that can remain together amidst this lyrical and sonic turmoil, and still strain their voices to rise above it all.

Although it is in many ways more expansive in scope, The Great Destroyer's tone is at least consistent with Low's past work. One is reminded of another Fridmann client, the Flaming Lips's Wayne Coyne, when listening to Sparhawk's delicate tenor, which barely hushes an anger that would consume Low if not for its composure. From the aptly-styled "California" to the hopeful crescendo that concludes "When I Go Deaf," Sparhawk, Parker, and bassist Zak Sally distract "The Great Destroyer" (Old age? Disease? Death?) with all forms of musical subterfuge. The beast is still on their tail, but Low deftly disguises itself in some sort of graceful defiance.

The snapshot of Low that is The Great Destroyer shows a band reaching out as it grows older, learning new ways to stare down its fears. What results is the sound of a band in a cocoon: fragile yet resilient, insular yet ready to transform.