Low, "Trust" (Kranky)
Never one to rest on their own accomplishments, Low, perhaps the most enigmatic band associated with the rock genre, continues to evolve in sound with each release. Amazingly enough, the band only seems to get better with each album as well, honing their own unique sound and adding to it, trying new things, unafraid to experiment and test their own self-imposed boundaries. That results in a fearless band that can seemingly do no wrong. Fans of Low and new fans will find Trust to be one of if not their finest release yet.
The basic formula is still the same. Alan Sparhawk sings and plays sparse guitar, light but rich, while his wife, Mimi Parker, plays her half drum kit and adds her sultry vocals, at times taking the lead, at times mixing beautifully with Sparhawk. And Zak Sally keeps up on bass. Their sound, dubbed slow-core, could just as easily be "Low-core," as this band basically formed it. Sparse and bare, it's at times haunting, at times chilling, at times enveloping and comforting. Like any good designer, they use their silence like well planned-out white space, making it integral to the sound.
Low is a genre to themselves, sparse yet undeniably rock
Red House Painters, The Winter Blanket
On Trust, Low seems to be experimenting and expanding. At times, it's all about production, as their sparse arrangements are given a deep, reverberating presence by Tchad Blake (Lisa Germano, Pearl Jam). On "Canada," they throw in a powerful rock guitar for an up-beat number that is surprisingly un-Low but still a strong and surprisingly good track that makes use of repetition nicely, and "Snowstorm" continues with an up-beat number, adding some thick, distorted guitar to the mix. Mark Gartman, friend and fellow musician as well as chronicler of the band in a documentary, plays banjo on the more folky "In the Drugs." Gerry Beckley, formerly of the 70s band America, sings on that song and "La La La Song." And the closer, "Shots and Ladders," is an almost eight-minute ambient song, with very sparing guitar over lush synth atmospherics and echoing vocals.
Other songs are undeniably Low. "Candy Girl" is a haunting affair, soft and echoing, lovely yet chilling. "Tonight" lets Parker take the lead on vocals over some lovely textured guitar and background atmospherics, while she sings to mostly piano accompaniment on the lighter feeling "Point of Disgust." The lengthy "John Prine" is long and soothing, while "Little Argument with Myself" increases the intensity of their sound without much increasing the volume or speed.
You feel Blake's presence on the opener, the deep, echoing "(That's How You Sing) Amazing Grace," a deep song with cascading percussion and echoing bells. Never a band that balks at letting Christian themes slip into their music (they did a Christmas album that was primarily Christian-themed holiday songs), this is only the first example of that on Trust. Later on, "I Am the Lamb" turns out an almost surprisingly quiet and sparse song, even for Low, consisting mostly of barely heard percussion, barely uttered vocals, and a deep sense of reverence.
Despite the new things tried on this album, this is still Low. Beneath the fuzzed-out guitar here and the deep, reverby quiet songs there, you still get the beautiful vocal combination of Sparhawk and Parker and the traditional less-is-more approach Low perfected several albums ago. Yet now you get a band that doesn't want to get stuck in the realm of slow-core, trying new things, redefining themselves. And it works beautifully on what is, undoubtedly, a triumph of an album.
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