Monday, September 12, 2005

The Silver Lining

Lately, I've been listening to a lot of Sub Pop stuff. Because I like it.

Low The Great Destroyer (Sub Pop)

The kings of slowcore return with an album that… well, isn’t. “It’s a hit, it’s got soul, steal the show with your rock and roll.” Huh? The reverb masters, filled with melancholic fuzz and ethereal voices which inspired fans to stare modestly into the depths of their shoes have churned out an absolutely hoppin’ album of beautiful pop gems which command those downturned eyes to stare straight out at the band and (gasp!) maybe even bop their heads.

The things that Low are known for, minimalism, hypnotic melodies courtesy of guitarist Alan Sparhawk and drummer Mimi Parker, intensity in quietness, are still there - just further developed. It’s not that Low isn’t capable of rocking out like the best of them (and we mean indie rockers, not stadium filler types), they just generally don’t. Well, not quite this much. And even this level of “rocking out” is negotiable.

But when an album opens with a throbbing bassline (Zak Sally’s work) which demands your attention, like this one does with “Monkey,” and then declares, “shut up and drive,” you listen. The earlier quoted track, “Just Stand Back,” along with “California,” have a jaunty americana-ness to them more familiar to Bennett era Wilco, and one can detect hints of Teenage Fanclub circa Bandwagonesque in the pop numbers like “Step” or the flippant “Broadway (So Many People)”. Yet those bands, along with Low, have been around for some time and have no doubt all influenced each other in some way. There’s even a Neil Young inspired feedback moment in the majestic “Pissing” jam, which opens quietly and builds to a level that requires the listener to crank the stereo up to eleven and keep it there, even when the track sonically explodes. There is a lushness to the loud, a sadness to the lyrics which revolve around death and loneliness with the occasional bit of smarm tossed in, and a beauty – as always – that Low is able to convey.

“They say music’s for fools, you should go back to school, the future is prisms and math,” Sparhawk sings on “Death of A Salesman,” lamenting the death of a dream for the breadwinner of the family. Thing is, it is the slowcore audience that has been taken back to school, and taught that Low can accomplish just about whatever they set their minds to, apparently. Even being kinda fast.