Low, Trust [Kranky] - 11/12
This one is a first. This is the first Low album that has caught me off guard enough that I required multiple listens to come to terms with its direction. When I first heard Low, back in the days of Long
Division, I remember thinking "well, they've done about all they can do with this." Then came The Curtain Hits the Cast which proved how wrong I really was. With each successive release Low has pushed themselves further both in terms of what they can do within their Low-esque parameters (see Songs for a Dead Pilot and the astonishing Secret Name) and in terms of pure songwriting ability (see Things We Lost in the Fire). Each album stands apart from the rest as a unique entity. With Trust Low wants to show how big they can sound.
And it's not just that they can play loud, like the propulsive fuzz bass, insistent strumming, and full on rock beat that drives "Canada" (which features the best yet instance of Alan Sparhawk's high pitched vocals in a harmony flip flop with Mimi Parker's rich lower register) to an actual state of power riffage. Low plays on Trust as if they are trying to fill in the open spaces. On "Candy Girl," which is like old-fashioned Low, one drum, one note bass line, occasional guitar chords, and is set up a way that defies the listener's expectations. The one bass note falls between bangs of the drum, creating a tempo that seems faster than it is as there is no open space between beats. The guitar is loud and sustaining, not allowed to die out. The effect is like a room slowly filling up. By the last quarter of the song, when a nasty sounding snare and a motley assortment of noise is added to the mix, one experiences a strange kind of sonic suffocation.
The constant sound is another development. Where many Low recordings have been antiseptic, with pristine silences, using that absence as a method of accentuating the few spare ingredients, Trust is full of odd sounds, as if someone were constantly tinkering around in the background during recording. They pop up whenever the drums are not echoing, or the guitars, mixed at much higher levels, are not sustaining to fill in those spaces. Thus, when the album hits the emotionally intense moments, such as on "I Am The Lamb," the presence of faint, squalling feedback, the crackling of an amp cord shorting out, and other detritus add to the think, clomping rhythms and guitar haze to create a heavier, denser sound. The effect is startling: as Sparkhawk repeatedly incants "I am the lamb, and I'm a dead man," amidst the maelstrom of sound, Parker's sweetly harmonizes the same words, and a second track of their voices sha-la-la-ing the melody weaving their way through the midst, creating a sense of both despair and ecstasy.
Trust is certainly the most startling Low release since Songs for a Dead Pilot, and easily matches the emotional impact of Secret Name. In the end, however, beneath all of the noise, the songs are as strong as ever. Though the progress Low makes with this record seems, at first, counter-intuitive given their strengths in the past, the fact that the songs are so good keeps them from shooting themselves in the collective foot. Instead of filling in the space with extraneous notes, beats, or hott lixx, Low allows the expansive feeling of the songs to drive them. It's like they cannot hold it back.
-- david christensen
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