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Low - In a silent way
on 18 March 2013
Low have partaken in a long journey since the narcotic rock of their debut 1994s "I could live in hope" but its been one where the direction of travel for their musical trajectory has consistently pointed skyward. The Duluth trio of Alan Sparhawk, Mimi Parker and bassist Steve Garrington are as sure footed as a Welsh team in Cardiff and have in this lovely, quiet and dense album produced another set of golden wonders. Perhaps it the presence of the Wilco link that is adding a key ingredient. Guitarist Nels Cline played on Low's last album "C'mon" and here the Wilco supremo Jeff Tweedy produces with real understanding of the band's ethos not least for the first time equally sharing the vocal duties between Sparhawks deep mournful voice and the lovely airy beauty of Parker's more sweeter approach which on balance is the predominant colour on show here. Those Low fans seeking a repeat of the the huge power chords of "The Great Destroyer" may not find "The Invisible Way" to their liking as it is mostly populated with acoustic guitar and pounding piano's. This does not however detract from the sheer power of the Low aesthetic for this record is as solid as there previous work but the songwriting just keeps getting better.
The sparse opener "Plastic cup" does have a Thom Yorke feel to it and is driven by Sparhawks lead vocal which proclaims "well you could always count on your friends to get you high/that's right/and you could always count on the 'rents to get you by/you could fly". Even better is the brilliant hynotic "Amethyst" which starts with a solo that Neil Young would have longed to write and Robert Plant will be queuing up to cover. It is a song up there with Low's best songs, the sort of moving slow core powered by some of the best harmonies in rock music that slams a vice like grip on your CD player. Parker then follows this with the double punch of the rumbling piano ballad "So blue" and the ethereal country of "Holy Ghost" where her lovely vibrato aches with understated emotion. Tweedy brings back those glowing harmonies again on the mid point standout "Waiting", although the desperation on "Clarence White" takes the album into much darker corners. It is Parker's lead on "Just make it stop" however that provides the album standout. As the National Public Radio review so nicely puts it locates this song "squarely in that sweet spot where darkness and worry are swathed in pristine beauty". The gorgeous closer "To our knees" performs the same feat.
Taken as a whole you could argue that most of Low's albums are a variation on a theme and on "The Invisible Way" the band work within fairly narrow confines, with songs taking subtle twists and turns that gradually grow into marked differences on repeated listens. It is only on one of the later tracks "On my own" that Sparkhawk really cuts loose on his guitar and lands a fiery electric solo characteristic of old. This is a small complaint when you look at this album in the round, since it is a glacial beauty littered with harmonies that remain as exquisite as ever. Some have already proclaimed it the best Low album ever which is perhaps loading the praise far too high. What "The Invisible Way" confirms is that over twenty years this band have produced some of the most compelling music either side of the Atlantic and that there is enormous power in elaborate restraint.