March 13, 2011

Album Review: Low's C'mon

Low established themselves as slo-core pioneers in the mid-'90s and early 2000s with the darkly seminal masterpieces, Trust and Things We Lost in the Fire. When the trio returned in 2005 after a brief hiatus, however, they respectably tested the outer limits of the genre with the glossy Dave Fridmann-produced alt-rocker, The Great Destroyer, and 2007's experimental electronic outlet, Drums & Guns, picking up a few more fans unfamiliar with their quiet past in the process (Most notably former Led Zeppelin frontman, Robert Plant, whose cover of "Silver Rider" made him a Grammy nominee this past year.) Low has never faltered in writing consistently good music in all these instances, but the focus on sound over their signature style of intimacy left an emotional void in the Minnesota-based musicians' recent efforts. Now on their 9th album, C'mon, Low has found a way to bind their past and recent lives together: Riskily co-producing it alongside Matt Beckley, a man whose known more for working with bubblegum pop FM artists than members of the Sub Pop stable.

"Try to Sleep" is C'mon's telling opener, as it glides with twinkling instrumentation, the coarse-smooth dual harmonizing of Alan Sparhawk and Mimi Parker and a sauntering tempo that sets the pace for the rest of the album. Like their early work, this is the pace Low needs to allow their music to breathe and emphasize on their iconic loud quietness. It happens on "Witches," whose stylistic ancestry is that of the guitar riff and thunderous floor tom that cracked the floor open wide on 2000's "Sunflower" and "Dinosaur Act." Sparhawk is unsurprisingly at the top of his game, too, as a lyricist engaging listeners with sinister, nonsensical stories about beating up witches and guys who think they're Al Green. He's also in it to bring the love back to Low's music, as evidenced in the stripped naked love song, "$20," and their new 8-minute epic, "Nothing But Heart."

What Low is not doing on C'mon is reheat a version of their former selves with hopes it will taste just as good to their listeners. The Duluth trio continues to think outside the realms of the slo-core box -- In this case, inviting longtime friend, Nels Cline, to contribute lap steel on the aforementioned latter track alongside "Down." The result is a rustic twang that fits with ease around Low's grandeur. As it turns out, teaming with Beckley merely ensured that C'mon's dynamic, melodic moments are noticeable yet unabashed by production geared toward tighter cohesion. This unlikely partnership has ultimately given new life to early Low by embracing the glaring, uncharacteristic qualities in recent efforts that have proudly become a part of these slo-core innovators' sound.

Low's C'mon will be released April 12, 2011 on Sub Pop Records.

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