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Low: The Great Destroyer

Low: The Great Destroyer

Label:Sub Pop
Release Date:2005

Low plays Washington’s Black Cat Feb. 7 with Pedro the Lion.

By Bret McCabe | Posted 2/2/2005

For more than a decade Low has orchestrated rock music that followed its name as the guiding light of its emotional metabolism and volume level. The ephemeral trio from Duluth, Minn., laced guitar, drum, and bass into a ruminative music with the inevitable pull of tides, erecting a tower of tender subtlety and considered restraint over eight albums. The band’s disciples cherished every careful listening and shushed the audibly breathing at live shows, while the rest of us wondered what in the name of the sweet baby Jesus all the fuss was about.

Its latest, The Great Destroyer, is Low to wake the deaf. And the band achieves it by changing very little. The angelic harmonies of husband/wife leaders Alan Sparhawk (guitar) and Mimi Parker (drums) remain, as do the stoic timekeeping of bassist Zak Sally and Sparhawk’s knack for sifting plain-spoken lyrics down to transcendental magic. The lone change is really the operatic force brought to the entire enterprise.

Destroyer starts off a shy rosebud of droning bass that opens a bit with Sparhawk and Parker’s ghostly harmonizing of “Oh my, my little white lies/ I swear I’m gonna make it right this time” that traces the spectral mood of this quicksand of beautiful throb called “Monkey.” The album blossoms a bit more with the chugging “California,” where Sparhawk's guitar sketches sunny afternoons, Parker pounds a hole into her snare, and Sally’s bass dances like a teenager. By the combustible riff that charges third track “Everybody’s Song” into life, you’re starting to wonder if Destroyer is from the same band that made the glacial Things We Lost in the Fire.

It’s a rising/falling drama Destroyer continues throughout. The ominous, Velvets-y lull of “Silver Rider” cools everything down a tad, only to be quickened again by the country-rocking “Just Stand Back.” The church-organ “Cue the Strings” cues Destroyer’s emotionally wrought and instrumentally agitated core: “Step,” a levitating lattice of admonishment (“Hey, keep an eye on what you say/ You think the words just walk away”) and the sublime “When I Go Deaf,” a serene acoustic-folk promise that chrysalis-changes into electric-shock celebration of the challenged life.

Make no mistakes about it, this is Low for the cheap seats. Volume merely amplifies everything Low has done before. And while The Great Destroyer may be the album that separates old fans from new, if Low had to shake the heavens to reach the unconverted, well, so what?

E-mail Bret McCabe

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