Since 2002’s excellent 'Trust', I've found that Low's output has shown diminishing returns – and 2007’s 'Drums And Guns' was one of the few in the clutch of Iraq War-inspired albums that didn’t do it for me at all. So if the pinnacle of their stripped down and raw song delivery was the Steve Albini (excellently) produced 'Things We Lost In The Fire' from 2001 then this album comes as a surprise.
The production (by Matt Beckley) on the Minnesota band's ninth album is almost lush and the multiple layers provide an uncharacteristic richness. The album is something of an enigma, and on first listen, I didn't "get" it. It’s not helped by the fact that the second track in, 'You See Everything', is the song where this production technique works least well – and truthfully it’s not a good song anyway.
The songs on the album range from classic Low melodies over sparse instrumentation as on 'Especially Me', '$20' and the standout 'Majesty/Magic' to out and out rockers like 'Witches' (great story) and then there’s 'Nothing But Heart' – which for me is the highlight of the album with a searing guitar contribution from Nels Cline, the Wilco guitarist who is simply a mighty talent. And I think that’s why the album is so slippery to get hold of – it’s both a step away from the expected Low sound and it’s tremendously varied across a range of musical approaches in its own right.
The core of Low is the husband/wife duo of Alan Sparhawk (guitar) and Mimi Parker (drums), whose vocal harmonies really define the band’s sound, together with a changing roster of bass players. The vocals are as strong and distinctive as ever, particularly on closer 'Something's Turning Over', but this album also showcases Sparhawk’s considerable abilities as a multi-instrumentalist, which is really a positive direction.
Low are seemingly a great favourite of other musicians – from Robert Plant to Thom Yorke – and it’s hard to name another band that has such widespread music industry respect. Even so, this album, I think surprisingly, represents their coming of age and an expansion of musical horizons. 'C’mon' is not an easy or coherent listen, and it’s not uniformly great. But stick with it – the best songs, of which there are several, are quite outstanding.
MP3 DOWNLOAD: Low - Try To Sleep by subpop
MP3 DOWNLOAD: Low - Especially Me by subpop
Purchase 'C’mon' at your local record store, iTunes, Amazon etc.