Low, Trust [Kranky]
With their first record in 1994, Low opened a door to
an undiscovered musical universe, one they continue to
inhabit largely alone. There really isn't another band
that is slow, quiet, melancholy and intense in quite
the same way. And now, with Trust, Low has
created yet another record of sublime beauty.
If you're familiar with independent music, you
probably know the facts of the band, a trio from
Duluth, Minnesota. Alan Sparhawk plays guitar and
sings; his wife, Mimi Parker, sings and plays
percussion. Zak Sally plays bass. Low's most
high-profile moment to date may have been around
Christmas 2000, when the Gap used their recording of
"Little Drummer Boy" in a TV ad. Other than that flash
of mainstream exposure, they seem content to remain in
the independent music world.
This is certainly a more nurturing place for them than
a ClearChannel listening room, with music directors
accustomed to Incubus desperately trying to find a
call-out hook. Low's music is characterized most
importantly by its subtlety. The band's songs are rich
with gaps, low hums, long notes and longer pauses (see
the review of their previous record, Things We Lost in the
Fire) that, like someone whispering, draw the
listener in close.
Inside that close circle there are often the
unmistakable harmonies of Parker and Sparhawk singing
together. Imagine Exene and John Doe down a long
Sergio Leone lens, singing along a railroad track
masked by layers of blowing dust. Or Emmylou Harris
and Neil Young exhausted, half-asleep, trying not to
disturb a baby sleeping in the next room. Separately
their voices can be beautiful; together they are just
awkward enough to be transcendent.
Truth has the solemn and quiet moments --
low-slope openings to "(That's How You Say) Amazing
Grace" and "I Am the Lamb," the barest arc of "It's in
the Drugs", the lullaby of "Tonight" -- that should be
enough to satisfy any long-term fan.
Yet it also, within the bounds reasonable for Low,
rocks out like crazy. With Sparhawk's reedy vocals and
scorching guitars, "Diamond" could almost be a new
Neil Young song. The thudding drums that come up in "I
Am the Lamb" are positively intimidating. Feedbacky
fuzz lifts and billows in "Snowstorm" while guitars
are as cold and accusing as a church bell echoing
across an empty winter square in "John Prine."
When the CD isn't rocking and isn't quiet, there are a
couple of songs that sound suspiciously like pop. "La
La La Song" has slightly psychedelic background
guitar/sitar sounds, a swingy melody, and syncopated
handclaps. Criminy, it even has Gerry Beckley of
America ("You Can Do Magic") jumping in on vocals. The
rousing "Canada", so head-noddingly hummable, will
resurface in your brain days later, no matter that you
didn't know you knew it.
It's not quite fair to summarize songs like these;
within each one are scads of tiny, vibrant details. A
tuba bubbles ebulliently for a few bars. Feedback
tears through fragile sonic fabric violently, just
once. The scratch of metal against metal. A harmonica
tone barely longer than a second flickers back
unexpectedly. Someone leans on piano keys. Birds
chatter. A bag of sand spills.
Perhaps like Tom Waits or the Cramps, artists so
individual that they live in genres of their own,
Low's moves are subject to a special kind of scrutiny.
Are they moving too far from the unique place they
started? Are they bowing to the pressures of
popularity and getting trendy? Or, instead, are they
simply rehashing past successes?
Low is doing none of these things. From the high plains of Duluth, Low continue to create music true to the universe they invented without standing still. On
Truth, low-key turns up, and minimalism expands
to include wailing guitars. This is another great Low
record: weighty and airy, compelling and quiet,
-- Carolyn Kellogg
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