The rules have always been different for Low. When audiences demanded livelier performances from their early shows, Alan Sparhawk and Mimi Parker turned their amps down. Twenty years since the band’s inception, the husband/wife/revolving-bassist act remains one of the last living bearers of the contentious “slowcore” taga term, Sparhawk recently quipped, that is at least useful “because in one word you know if it’s like MotÃ¶rhead or not.” Aided by Jeff Tweedy’s production talents, Low’s tenth album The Invisible Way inflicts a country twang upon the band’s longstanding aesthetic, reining in some of its trademark sprawl for modest, self-contained compositions.
Even at their most fitful, Low’s songs have always coursed toward an aching, patient beauty. Each record trickles around spots of death and violence, harnessing repetition to achieve enigmatic profundities. If grunge grew out of Swans’ auditory assault, then Low took off down the opposite channel of Michael Gira’s notorious project: the long, slow climb to alien heights.
Much of Low’s work draws power from the tension between sound and content, and the strongest songs on Invisible Way are no exception. The excellent “Just Make It Stop” sees Parker harmonizing with herself, pitting tortured lyrics against a jaunty beat and big saloon piano. “So Blue” heaps desolate language atop a surge of ascending piano and chilling harmonies, while sparser numbers like “Holy Ghost” delve into explicit Christian transcendence. When Sparhawk and Parker repeat “happy birthday” over an apocalyptic swell of guitar at the album’s climax, we’re not sure whether we’re in for a party or the Rapture.
While the connective tissue between the record’s highlights simmers at the same temperature as much of Low’s back catalog, The Invisible Way flows as a satisfying whole. True to its penchant for understatement, Low has marked two decades and ten albums with a humble, intimate LP.
Essential Tracks: “So Blue”, “Just Make It Stop”, and “On My Own”