Review Summary: For their seventh album, Low have sped things up with a more rock-oriented approach to their songwriting. Though fans of early Low may not be used to the dense production and faster pop songs, the subtle beauty of early Low records is here in full force.
Best known as veterans of the so-called 'slowcore' movement, Low
have been making music for the better part of 12 years. Since their first record, I Could Live in Hope
, Low have demonstrated a gift for creating subtly beautiful music with sparse instrumentation, always centreing around the vocal harmonies of husband and wife duo Alan Sparhawk and Mimi Parker.
Alan Sparhawk - Vocals, Guitar
Mimi Parker - Vocals, Drums
Zak Sally - Bass
In stark contrast to the restrained minimalism of their early records, Low have turned the amps up to 11 for their Sub Pop debut, The Great Destroyer
. And for the most part, this approach has yielded some great results. The Great Destroyer
is also the first record that the trio have recorded with the aid of producer Dave Fridmann (Mercury Rev
) who has previously worked with The Delgados
, The Flaming Lips
. Fridman's production is dense and fuzzy, keeping the vocals moderately low in the mix while still giving the harmonies adequate space to fully develop. The Great Destroyer
features a wide range of instruments; organs, drum loops, electronics and sythesised strings all make appearances along with the group's standard guitar/bass/drums and the airy vocals of Parker and Sparhawk.
Lyrically, the record is often quite dark; "It's a suicide/Shut up and drive/We're never gonna make the light, but it's alright/Tonight you will be mine, tonight the monkey dies" sing Sparhawk and Parker over a distorted bass guitar on "Monkey", the album's opener and one of the busiest songs on the album. "California", on the other hand, the album's second track is one of the most perfect pop songs the band have ever written and features simple instrumentation to back up the gorgeously uplifting pop melodies. On paper, its lyrics sound less hopeful and uplifiting than they are in the context of the song; "Though it breaks your heart/You had to sell the farm/Back to California where its warm". Regardless, "California" is a highlight not just on The Great Destroyer
, but also in Low's entire back catalogue.
Despite the more lively and busy production, fans of Low at any point in their career should find something to enjoy on The Great Destroyer
. The aforementioned "Monkey" and "California" are excellent pop songs with phenomenal melodies, along with "Just Stand Back". "When I Go Deaf", "Cue The Strings" (the title is quite literal) and "Silver Rider" are much more gentle songs while "Pissing" is the album's darkest track and spends a good deal of its 5 minutes building up with pounding drums. "Walk Into the Sea" is a simple but noisy conclusion to the album in the vein of its earlier rock-oriented songs and "On The Edge Of" is a slow epic that nervously explodes into walls of distortion in between soft, wordless male/female harmonies backed solely by Sparhawk's guitar.
With Fridman's dense production and the rock-oriented nature of some of the songs, this may not quite be Low as you've always known them, but it is
inarguably still Low. That and the fact that The Great Destroyer
is a consistent record, home to some of the best material that Low have ever produced should be reason enough for fans and newcomers alike to give The Great Destroyer
an esteemed place in their collection.
Great range of styles
Gorgeous melodies and harmonies
A few missteps detract from what is otherwise an extremely solid album
Production occasionally overwhemes some of the songs
Fans of early Low may miss the restraint of I Could Live in Hope
or Long Division
Just Stand Back
Final Rating: 3.5/5