Synonymous with slowcore throughout most of their career, Low has never been a band in a great hurry. Yet by titling their new album C’mon, they implicitly suggest a sense of urgency and directness. This isn’t necessarily a new thing for the band, as even more drawn out and spacious affairs like 2002’s Trust were balanced out with shorter, more immediate songs like the concise, simple rocker “Canada.” And since the Duluth, Minn., band signed with Sub Pop, they’ve taken greater steps to explore more taut forms of rock and indie pop, albeit sieved through their own dreamy filter.
With the delicate and twinkling opener “Try to Sleep,” Low cuts short any notion of the trio becoming a group of blistering punk rockers, however. It’s a slowly paced and gorgeous piece of dream-pop, precisely the kind of song one would come to expect from Low after eight albums of glacial, pristine lullabies and hazy, heartbreaking dirges. Yet it’s oddly hooky, its glockenspiel melody turning what otherwise might have been a sleepy ballad into something a little more infectious. That notion is amplified on “Witches,” a distorted, three-chord burner that, while retaining the same shimmering snowflake charm as their softer compositions, is an honest, ragged rock ‘n’ roll song. David Carroll’s banjo plucking is a stunning contrast to the dense haze of guitar, while Alan Sparhawk creates earworms from weirdly evocative lines such as “you played the part of the one who was taken down by gods/ all I could think about was how a guy like me could fight them off.”
Though songs like “Try to Sleep” and “You See Everything” reveal a lightness that had been absent from some of the band’s darker, more sinister work of recent years, Low are at their best when balancing these extremes. There’s a stunning gloss to “Especially Me,” yet the song’s minor key arpeggios give it a mournful quality in spite of its immediacy. The slow thrum of “Majesty/Magic” drips like a leaky faucet, soon pooling into a beautifully sparse melody. And the massive, eight-minute highlight “Nothing But Heart” begins with a furious squall of distorted chords, lurching with the transcendent power of Jesu. And despite such a crushing opening sequence, it slowly makes a turn for the soaring, as Sparhawk and Mimi Parker harmonize the refrain, “I’m nothing but heart.”
When the relatively brief 45 minutes of C’mon is up, it’s hard not to feel hopeful, joyous even. Not that Low’s albums haven’t always had a deeply affecting quality to them, but more so than on any prior effort, C’mon finds the band delivering music that not only sounds great, but feels good as well.
Sun Kil Moon – Ghosts of the Great Highway
Yo La Tengo – And Then Nothing Turned Itself Inside Out
Cat Power – Moon Pix
Stream: Low – “Try to Sleep”
Jeff Terich is the founder and editor of Treble. He's been writing about music for 20 years and has been published at American Songwriter, Bandcamp Daily, Reverb, Spin, Stereogum, uDiscoverMusic, VinylMePlease and some others that he's forgetting right now. He's still not tired of it.