Over seventeen years and now nine albums into their singular journey, you might expect Duluth’s Low to have grown either grizzled and world-weary or wilfully abstruse. But they return here with open arms. ‘C’mon’ is an epigrammatic statement of unaffected wonder and childlike rage. The electronic claustrophobia of 2007’s ‘Drums and Guns’ has given way to something warmer and more spacious. It’s as if the former’s complex human dilemmas have been answered with simple sentiments that were there from the beginning.
What makes Low special is the sense of proximity they achieve. As you hear them, it is not ‘the listeners’ they address, nor even characters within their songs; it’s you. ‘Nothing But Heart’ starts with a buzzing guitar tone you can reach out and touch. A trademark Low mantra-like chorus sweeps in, which repeats and builds with the instrumentation. It even gets away with going all widescreen-Slash-soloing-on-a-mountainside, because you are in no doubt that the emotions heartfelt and brutally honest. There is no calculated cynicism here, yet the album avoids sounding over-earnest because it is so lovingly personal; like it was made especially for you.
‘Try to Sleep’ welcomes you in like an electric blanket. Glockenspiels chime like a more well-balanced cousin of ‘No Surprises’. Parker and Sparhawk weave together so distinctively that the transition from its perfectly-formed pop to the psychotropic folk of ‘You See Everything’, which is all colour and shape, makes perfect sense.
‘Done’ bristles with a more familiar sparse intimacy. With its dustbowl heartbreak and beatific harmonies, it’s the Indie ‘Unchained Melody’. Even better is “$20”, a simple song of such astonishing power that it is almost overwhelming. The refrain of “My love is for free, my love” is a knockout upper-cut to the heart. Love songs, existing as 90% of the popular music canon, are daily tossed off by hit-seekers into the ether like a cheap wank. Here the sentiment is plain and genuine, free of rock star selfishness. The sound of unconditional love. Unbelievable.
The album’s most shadowy and violent track, ‘Majesty/Magic’ builds from monotone chimes to a pounding climax of crashing drums and distorted descending chords. ‘Nightingale’ is the balm for this opened wound, a sunset vista of reverb and tender pleas, and a melancholic counterpoint to Keats’ ode to the songbird. Low are a marriage of heaven and hell, able to simultaneously express the beautiful and the terrible. If you don’t own any Low records, their latest album would be the perfect way to start, and it’s not often you can say that. So the bittersweet West Coast sing-along of ‘Something’s Turning Over’ fades away with a children’s choir and bird song, warning us that “Just because you never hear their voices / don’t mean they won’t kill you in their sleep.” Sweet dreams.
Posted: Fri 4 March 2011