Low are a true rarity in the music world. Since their debut album, I Could Live In Hope, the band has done little to progress as a band: sure, the instrumentals are less sparse, and you feel a little like slitting your wrists by the end of the record, but by and large, Low has always maintained an “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” tactic to their music. And this has always worked for them: The band’s last album, Drums And Guns, was the band’s best sounding record to date, was still not far off of the band that made a name for themselves by inventing the heavenly genre that, for better or less, we call “Slowcore.” They’re also one of the few bands that doesn’t seem to know how to make a song that isn’t plain-and-simple gorgeous.
One of the statements that Low has always gone for is the aesthetic of voice-over-instrument: if you go back to I Could Live In Hope, and listen to “Words,” the haunting yet simple guitar riff is all but obliterated once Alan Sparhawk starts to sing. This is how it’s always gone: guitars and icy synths fighting for dominance of the music they’re in. It’s not the worst thing that everything always plays second fiddle to the duo of Sparhawk and Mimi Parker, his wife. Together, they pump out showstopper after showstopper, and to me, the pair act as the greatest vocalists of the last 20 years. Since their first couple albums, Sparhawk’s voice has become a little more gruff, and Parker has slowed down on belting out songs like “Lullaby,” but essentially, they’re still the top of their game.
Remember that whole thing about keeping the same aesthetic almost the same since ’93? C’mon is the one that really makes a play at changing that, for the better. Nine albums in, Low’s biggest leap forward is the fact that they write songs now, instead of pieces, such as the aforementioned “Lullaby,” or the The Curtain Hits The Cast crown-jewel “Do You Know How To Waltz?”, the band opted to write, dare I say it, hooks. If you don’t believe me, listen to “Try To Sleep” a single time, and then try and tell me its hopeful rise and fall didn’t lodge itself firmly in your head for days. It’s nothing new for Low (my former challenge goes for the bass-tastic groove of Drums and Guns’ “Hatchet”), and it’s a shade that suits them very well. The odd side-effect is that now, when the band digs up their roots, it almost sounds out of place. “$20” is the most Low-like songs on the records, but somehow its gorgeous lilt is its ultimate downfall, at least on C’mon (take note: it’s not a bad song, it’s just slightly out-of-place on the rec0rd). The album shows Low in their truly new form, losing that habit for taking over every song with vocal power alone. It’s a strange new shade for the band, albeit one that isn’t unwelcome: ten years ago, the band would have finished with the slow-burning epic of “Nothing But Heart,” which juts into the sky like a pillar of smoke and distortion above the rest of the album. What did they do, though? They followed that one up with the acoustic-y sing-along of “Something’s Turning Over,” which, if you think about it, kinda shows that Low themselves are in on their reputation as sad bastard storytellers.
Ultimately, it’s possible that C’mon is a stepping stone for what is to come for Low in the future, or it may be their final transformation in to slowcore songwriters, rather than slowcore artists. They’re reinventing themselves with C’mon, but they do it in a way that almost makes you forget that they ever sounded different. Hearing the “la la la” fade-out of “Something’s Turning Over,” it’s a wonder that they were ever able to make tears-in-your-whiskey music like they used to, but somehow, with Low, it doesn’t matter what direction they take; it’s all about the fact that they’ve got the courage to take that direction at all.