TUESDAY, APRIL 19, 2011 |
Posted by: Joe Puglisi
Low's ninth studio album, C'mon, finds the band in a sonic wasteland of their own thoughts, wandering aimlessly through mid-tempo introspection and the instrumental equivalent of the weather in London (foggy with a chance of rain, always). But despite thin textures and a Fleet Foxes mentality on use of melodic harmonies (although arguably a Low mentality first), the space of the record is infinite and awe-inspiring, with some fantastic production giving even the simplest of passages the feeling of an orchestral blowout. The music has been called a few things, most notably "slow-core", a label Low aren't necessarily fond of (but helped spawn and perpetuate, making them the de facto fathers of a sub-genre they prefer to be excluded from, funny). Don't take that hipster bait terminology for granted; it makes sense despite their resistance. The songs that are the dirge-iest are also sometimes the most intense, and that's the magic of Low: it's their world, we're just visiting. Plus, after nine times around the block, you kind of expect them to know what they are doing.
Case in point: "$20", with Alan Sparhawk's sparse "my love is for free", sets up a deft rhetorical contrast with just the title and one repetitive lyric, and that's without even thinking about the music (or lack of it). The band's knack for complicating the simplest of motifs is astounding; these guys could make watching paint dry seem rhetorically pregnant. Minimal is the operative word, but not everything is sparse; "Nothing But Heart" begins with a distorted lick (solo of course) that sounds like a freight train hitting a case of TNT. Opener "Try To Sleep", as well as "Witches" and "Done" (the first three cuts), all the busiest songs on the album in terms of texture, could almost pass for a normal band's ballads. But Low is not a normal band, and the lullaby speed of their initial songs only slows as C'mon seems to urge itself to pick up the pace, and ignore its own request, all in one deft movement.
They marry fashion and function here, and that's the key. Low's attention to detail with specific elements and noises having an almost inflated importance in each song forces the listener to edge closer. "Majesty/Magic" is an incredible success in this regard, forcing the ear to try and maintain the differences between the cries of "majesty" and "magic" by adding layers of harmony and bells, eventually joined by distortion (and stripped down, and built again, all across eight minutes). It's the kind of thing that speedy tempo junkies dismiss as boring, but a heightened and aware (or drug-addled, or both) mind finds stunning. Passages grow and morph, layers are built, all while maintaining an alarming simplicity in melodic contour. It's not busy in the sense that it's moving from point A to point B, but rather, engaging several musical senses at once by expanding and collapsing. And by building their own sonic universe, they don't have to play by anyone else's rules.