Low, Trust [Kranky]
With its decade-long career, Low should be able to shake the "minimalist" misnomer. Yet its measured pacing and crystalline harmonies are still written off as mere formalism by many critics, even though Low is a vibrant and expansive band, exploring timbres and sounds in ways that leave the obvious parallels--Galaxie 500, Spain, Ida--far behind.
Trust, its sixth studio album, finds Low working with veteran mixer Tchad Blake to great results. Opening track "(That's How You Sing) Amazing Grace" clearly references the spiritual in guitarist/vocalist Alan Sparhawk's opaque lyrics ("I knew this girl when I was young/ she took her spikes from everyone/ one night she swallowed up the lake/ That's how you sing Amazing Grace"). The track opens with a synthesized bass-drum kick, but barring this one tweak (Low has employed only a snare and high-hat cymbal in its drum sound), the song could have appeared on any the band's landmark albums for the Vernon Yard label. Trust has Low's trademarks: shimmering reverb on the guitar, Sparhawk and drummer/vocalist Mimi Parker harmonizing the choruses, and simple bass lines. It's a formula, but a devastatingly effective one.
It's with songs such as the fuzzed-out rocker "Canada," the slowly building "It's in the Drugs," or the droning, ascending "Shots and Ladders" that the minimalist tag falls flat. Each song is densely layered and rich in textures unattainable by other bands to whom Low is compared. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the up-tempo, "Snowstorm." Over a staccato drumbeat and circular, ringing guitar riff, Sparhawk and Parker harmonize affecting verses about growing up without growing old. It's a simple song, sparse in composition but not effect. It's this ability to wring striking emotional dynamics from its spare elements that has kept Low a viable band for years when so many others have lapsed into slocore self-parody.
-- Jimmy Askew
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