Low The Great Destroyer(Rough Trade) Buy it from Insound
Seeing as we're sufficiently post-High Fidelity to make un-ironic top 5 lists again, I can happily state that Low's Things We Lost In The Fire is firmly entrenched as one of my favourite records of all time. Steve Albini's sparse production and the feather-light touch of the Duluth trio brought forth an album of stark beauty and almost unbearable sadness and emotion. Of course, it was lost on some - I've had people tell me it sounds like Enya; I think I just shook my head and walked off.
The album, along with others like Secret Name and Trust, set the standard for what has been ridiculously titled slow-core. These records are so delicate and poignant that Low have become masters in their field, which makes it all the more intriguing that the band has decided to veer off in a different direction. I say different direction, but you can still find plenty of the trademark male/female vocals (sorry Pixies, but no one has done vocals this way better than Low), and there's a tangible sadness overhanging as always. Death Of A Salesman is the epitome of this, just a simple strum-along, but a matter of fact description of giving up a dream and embracing the mundane.
However: different direction. Opening track Monkey kicks off with a blast of noise and cascades into a brooding, bass-heavy number. Alongside the melancholy of previous Low albums, this one shows very deep veins of frustration, resentment and anguish - unusual for an artist on their seventh album to regress to slightly adolescent emotions.
Second track California just tries to be contrary by providing an almost (almost) upbeat back beat, before another slab of brooding guitar riffs introduces Everybody's Song.
Low are tapping into the dynamic range of the wider alt.rock circle here, and as a result sound less instantly recognisable and more like a number of other bands employing the slow-burning, moody approach. There's nothing like Laser Beam, for example, which is so incredibly slow and quiet that it would be impossible to mistake it for anyone else. What we do have is stunning juxtapositions such as in When I Go Deaf, where the wistful melodies of the quiet Low crash down around your ears at three minutes into a cacophonous, almost Mogwai-like earscraper.
David Bowie changes direction pretty much every album, and usually gets away with it, but for the most part going so radically away from your own style is very risky indeed. As I mentioned, Low's previous work was so touching and perfect, so why would they? Well, regardless of the reason, they have, and the result is stunningly good. The songs on this album are superb, the sound (this time produced by Flaming Lips/Mercury rev helmsman Dave Fridmann) brings out every nuance, and the difference in style only highlights the quality. This comes highly recommended, not just for bravery but for genuine Excellence In The Field Of Rock: if it doesn't grab you at first and you find yourself pining for some hushed Low of old, persevere a little, its certainly worth it.31 January, 2005 - 00:00 — Simon Briercliffe