Layers of depth, surprise
Low has always been a gospel group, by fiat if not for its actual content. Its music – hushed, syrupy indie rock that’s ecstatic in a roundabout way – isn’t religious per se, but it does embody reverence as well as any soaring operatic solo or monster-power choir.
That was the band’s selling point in its early years, but lately, it’s evolved. It turned things up to 11 – OK, to five or six – beginning with “The Great Destroyer” in 2005, which was its first album for Sub Pop. On “The Invisible Way,” its 10th full-length album in two decades as a band, it pulls back from that intensity but adds new layers of depth and surprise.
The album is produced by Jeff Tweedy of Wilco, though it’s worth noting that even he can’t do much harm to a band with borders and instincts this strong. If he’s done anything, it’s to make the group assertive in small doses. Mimi Parker, who plays drums, is a more forceful and prominent singer here than in the past, especially on “Holy Ghost” and the striking album closer, “To Our Knees.” And musically, there are new intrusions: the piano on “Amethyst,” which arrives like a defibrillator, or the doom metal breakdown that eats the end of “On My Own” whole. These gestures have disproportionate meaning in Low’s ecosystem.
If anything, the rise in Parker’s intensity puts the band’s regular frontman, Alan Sparhawk, in new, slightly less flattering light. His yarn-telling, on songs like “Mother,” is still strong, but his voice lacks some of his band mate’s oomph. In the past Low was doing more with less. But it’s becoming clear that less isn’t always more.
Jon Caramanica/New York Times