Low, "Things We Lost In The Fire" (Kranky)
After nearly a decade in existence, it's a mistake to dwell on simplistic descriptions of Low's sound: Yes, it's deliberately paced and pretty, focused as much on the space between notes as the notes themselves, but the band does more within that framework than most do with three times the ingredients. The Duluth trio's new Things We Lost In The Fire again stretches the boundaries of that sound, engaging in pure, infectious pop on "Dinosaur Act" and even incorporating a bit of well-placed guitar fuzz on "Whore." Alan Sparhawk's progression as a singer continues, complementing the ever-crystalline voice of drummer and wife Mimi Parker, while Parker takes the spotlight more often than usual, dominating scattered highlights such as "In Metal," "Embrace," and the almost impossibly delicate "Laser Beam." Again recording with Steve Albini--an ideal choice, given his hands-off approach and well-documented loyalty to a band's vision--Low proves enormously versatile here, exploring musically and maturing lyrically. The droning "Whitetail" slows the album's momentum early on, but Things We Lost In The Fire serves as an outstanding introduction to the group's uniquely compelling, disarming sound. It's strange that a band so gentle and unassuming would become the Alpha-anything, but Low has become the premier purveyor of an ill-defined genre featuring acts that play slow, quiet pop. It's even got a Gap commercial to prove its dominance, but other acts certainly warrant mention in the same breath. The London trio Arco rarely rises above a breathless whisper on its fine new Coming To Terms, a resolutely ineffectual half-hour of pretty, winsome music. But its instrumentation is fuller and more sweeping than Low's, even incorporating strings on "Movie," though the album is equally effective during desolate moments such as "Babies' Eyes" and the piano-driven, appropriately titled closer "Lullaby." Coming To Terms consistently produces an effectively languorous, melancholy mood, thanks in large part to Chris Healey's breathily androgynous vocals. It can't quite top Low's ability to mesmerize in many ways, but who can? Arco comes a whole lot closer than most.
Things We Lost in the Fire on Amazon.com