4.04.2011

Album Grades: Low: "C'mon"

Low: C'mon [2011]
Grade: A
Hometown: Duluth, Minnesota
Recommended Tracks: Try to Sleep, Especially Me, Majesty Magic, Nothing But Heart
Listen to a streaming copy of it while you read this review: HERE

Eric here.  I have had a serious crush on Low [and their related band that rocks a bit harder; 'Retribution Gospel Choir'] since about 2003.  It was then that I happened to read a review of "Things We Lost In The Fire" in a copy of the Onion.  It sounded like something I might like, and was a band I had never heard of, so I went out and bought a copy, and have been in love with them ever since.

However, before getting into more details about "C'mon", their latest album which will hit stores on April 12th, I would like to say that in all fairness, Low is not for everybody.  I happen to love them, but I have many friends who have found them to be too slow, too quiet, too sad, or just a "more boring Sigur Ros".  And I totally get that.  But for me, the slow, tense, and beautiful build of so many Low songs is a catharsis that isn't sad, but instead gorgeous and uplifting.  They get me every time, and I'm not ashamed to say it.

So, if you don't dig Low, there's not really any reason why you'd dig them this time around.  And if you're already a fan, then I'm sure you'll love this new offering.  I have nothing to say that would convince anyone who's got their mind made up one way or the other, and that's just fine with me.  But, on the other hand, if you haven't heard of them or actually listened to them before... then this review --and the embedded videos below-- are for you.  This review of "C'mon" is really just my thesis for why you might enjoy Low.

*****

As far as I can tell, there's no reason why Low should be successful or popular within the indie rock scene at all, whatsoever.  Somehow, they've churned out albums and international tours for the last 17 years, but it's all completely illogical that they have such a following.  They specialize in writing slow quiet funeral dirges, for many years they limited their musical palette to the most simple, minimal, and slow arrangements possible, they're not flashy, they don't write much that's fit for the radio, they're from northern Minnesota, they're a married Mormon couple with a couple kids [plus a bassist], and they don't have any kind of marketing schtick or memorable gimmick [We dress like candy canes! We have weird stage names! Our releases are all Important Concept Albums! We take tons of drugs! We are ironic and retro and have big beards!].  For example, on this last album, the pinnacle of the record is nothing but a gradual eight-minute build of guitars and Alan Sparhawk singing over and over again "I'm nothing but heart".  They're not in-your-face, and they're certainly anything but hip.

So what do they have?  They've got 9 albums and counting of delicate pop songs built around the heart-wrenching vocal interplay of Sparhawk and wife Mimi Parker.  They've got a keen sense of how to tease all the tension possible out of a song, whether or not it ever gets loud or dirty or not.  They possess an earnestness, honesty, patience, and sense of purpose in their songwriting that I believe simply can't be found elsewhere.  And they have also increasingly broadened their musical palette over the most recent handful of albums to include faster tempos, more instrumentation, and a little fuzz on the guitars.  For any new fans, I still believe that 2005's "The Great Destroyer" is the easiest and most "radio-friendly" point of entry into Low's catalogue, and my favorite of theirs yet, but "C'mon" would also be a great place to start.

The album opens with "Try To Sleep", and "You See Everything", which are perhaps the two most upbeat and sunny songs on the album -- heck, they've got sleigh bells.  "Witches" is full of Sparhawk's warm guitars, Parker's soft, essential, background vocals, and lines such as "all you guys out there trying to act like Al Green; you all reek".  Later, we get to more typical fare such as "Done" and "Majesty Magic"; the slow burn and build of harmonizing vocals and repeated guitar lines.  "Especially Me" is a mesmerizing trance of a song with Parker on lead vocals ["Cry me a river, so I can float over to you"].  The previously mentioned "Nothing  But Heart" is a pleading hopeful march to cap off the album, with "Something's Turning Over" serving as a closing palette-cleanser [that's the third time I've used the word "palette" here -- I apologize].  All in all, I see this as perhaps the sunniest and most of hopeful of Low's albums, a return to the guitar-based pop of "The Great Destroyer", after having dabbled with more moody electronics and production tricks in "Drums and Guns".

In conclusion, I'd like to share 3 embedded videos below to paint a picture of the various sides and sounds of Low:

1. This is a live version of the first track from C'mon; "Try To Sleep".


2. This is what you get when you strip everything else away from their songs except the bare bones.


3. And this is what you get when you add a few layers and a bit of speed back onto a Low song [performed by Sparhawk's other band, "Retribution Gospel Choir"].  Just swap out the drummer, and see what a difference it makes.

2:26 PM