- Low - Sub Pop
After nearly two decades, the Duluth, Minn.-based rock band Low, co-led by guitarist Alan Sparkhawk and drummer/percussionist Mimi Parker (husband and wife), has amassed a number of tags to its brand of quiet, slower-paced songs, with plenty of dirge running underneath the engaging hymnal-like melodies.
It started as a joke when, asked to describe Low's music, Sparkhawk remarked, "slowcore." And, true, Low formed in 1993 in opposite reaction to the '90s wave of hardcore post-punk, though the degrees of separation were not far. It is no wonder that Low immediately drew attention from maverick producers such as Kramer and Steve Albini. But the band also drew its musical approach from the surroundings of Duluth, a far-northern city situated in the hills overlooking Lake Superior with expansive skies and rolling storms and susceptible to bitter-cold winters.
Low also gathered inspiration from folk influences, but more from the likes of Leonard Cohen, Neil Young and Richard and Linda Thompson than Duluth's most famous son, Bob Dylan. And just when the suspicion arose that Low may have called it quits, the band's music started to gain wide attention by way of an unlikely source: Robert Plant. His 2010 solo recording, Band of Joy, contained two Low songs, both from their 2005 release, The Great Destroyer, a record that edged toward an acoustic folk sound (allegedly suggested to Plant by ace guitarist and arranger Buddy Miller).
Low's ninth full-length recording, C'mon, successfully combines the song structures of the 2001 Albini-produced (and arguably their finest) work, Things We Lost in the Fire, with the more expansive sound of The Great Destroyer.
Sparkhawk half jokingly compares this new offering to Richard and Linda Thompson's seminal break-up record, Shoot Out the Lights. "It's definitely sort of a tongue-in-cheek thing," he said in a recent interview with Minneapolis' City Pages. "It has more to do with how it feels -- like the songs were talking to each other and saying things that we don't say in normal life."
With the unusual step of using Hollywood engineer/producer Matt Beckley, who worked with Avril Lavigne and Ke$ha, Low made a record that is big and bright, accentuating the vocals of Parker and Sparkhawk -- especially Parker, who confidently soars on "You See Everything" and "Especially Me." And though C'mon may be stripped of some of the band's familiar industrial rumblings, it maintains some of the band's dark peaks and valleys. With the assistance of guest musicians including violinist Caitlan Moe and guitarist Nels Cline (who contributes a blistering solo on "Nothing But Heart"), C'mon recalls the band's past, drawing on strong songwriting, intimate execution and epic grace.