Low, Secret Name (Kranky)
"Jarring" may not be the right word to describe a Low song, but it'll aptly describe fans' first experience with "I Remember," the opening track on the Duluth band's fourth full-length album, Secret Name. Characteristically slow-paced but awash in static crackle and surface noise, it undermines the band's core idea: that the silence between notes is as crucial as the notes themselves. It's enough to make you momentarily curse the name of producer Steve Albini, who's stripped away plenty of polish in his esteemed career. Fortunately, Albini and the band know better--the rest of Secret Name isn't nearly as sullied--but all parties involved also know that the time is right to play with the formula a bit. Building on the basic elements of Low's sound (slow, clear guitar tones; slow, clear bass lines; slow, clear brushes of snare and cymbal; and slow, clear vocals by Alan Sparhawk and Mimi Parker), Secret Name subtly adds occasional strings, piano, and loops, proving that you can create a malleable sound without varying in tempo or tone. Though not quite as transcendent as The Curtain Hits The Cast or Low's untouchable debut (1994's I Could Live In Hope), Secret Name is still undeniably great, even stunning at times: When Parker's swooning vocals are at the fore, the album can be downright hypnotic, and "Weight Of Water" and "2-Step" certainly fit that bill. Those two songs alone would make Secret Name worth owning, but even without them, it would be a consistently striking, resonant collection--once you get over the initial shock of its first few minutes.