If Robert Plant picks two songs from Low’s career to cover on his album called Band of Joy, that’s pretty much a clue that Low might be a band to look into. This album, C’mon, produced by SubPop, is their 9th studio album and though the band isn’t fond of the genre label “slowcore,” which many say they pioneered, the entire album is like a rock-infused lullaby, in a slightly haunting but certainly pleasant and calming sort of way. The two vocalists, Alan Sparhawk and Mimi Harper, are married, and that comes as no surprise, since their voices blend together in matrimonial harmony, chilling and powerful. The backdrop of instrumentation weaves a slow, meandering path through thoughtful lyrics emphasizing love, redemption and faith.
There is a dark and devotional quality to the music, not only because the two are of Mormon faith, but because the music hinges on gospel-like, layered singing against long, deep notes as if echoing in a high, rounded church. This reverberation is intentional; the album was actually recorded at a former Catholic church with high vaulted ceilings in their hometown of Duluth, Minnesota. The mellow style of group vocals and minimalist guitar should not imply this album isn’t dynamic and precise, because it is; wailing guitars and thudding bass add a jagged edge when needed, and other interesting accents like a soulful violin or toy drums punctuate the harmonies in some of the most delightfully unexpected places.
The second song of ten, “You See Everything,” is like a slow motion climb up a snow-covered mountain. The ice queen vocals, low wails and emphatic drums indicate that Low is a good band to sit back and let go to, perhaps allowing your eyeballs to roll back into a deeper space where surprising visuals may visit and enlighten.
Though some songs on the album, like “Nightingale” and “Something’s Turning Over,” are a little more optimistic and full of light and higher notes, a more shadowy feeling comes through most of the time. “Majesty/Magic,” especially, builds with the long, winding refrain of “Oh, majesty,” amid few guitar notes into a subtle crescendo with spiraling organ and concluding claps. “Especially Me” is haunting and beautiful like a slave song, Harper’s drawn out annunciation highlighting the best lines of the album: “If we knew where we belonged, there’d be no doubt where we’re from, but as it stands, we don’t have a clue - especially me and probably you.”
The fourth song, “Done,” echoes an elegy, like a slow march through a somber town. Sparhawk bemoans, “I’m weary and stumbling in the desert here,” then later in the album pines, “I’m nothing but heart,” in the song of the same name. The style on this album is exemplified here in the next to last song: the lyrics are drawn out and hyper-pronounced, repeated over wavering guitars, background percussion and some instances of faint background vocals, plus little surprising experiments like the loud, fuzzy electric guitar in the introduction to the song, or the barely perceptible “ta-ta-tas” huskily whispered by a little boy at the end. Also, the last song on the album has a chorus of little girl voices, these being possibly their two children. These subtle, nuanced details combined with the overall low-key, choral quality of the music make C’mon an album worth taking the time to absorb.
Reviewer Bio - Nancy Woo, managing editor at OnlineRock, studied Sociology, Literature and Environmental Studies at UC Santa Cruz. A self-described "bohemian of sorts" she spends most of her time listening to music, reading, writing, freelancing in the world of journalism, tutoring writing, running, practicing yoga, attending live music and theater shows.