Low have made a 20-year career out of playing very few notes very slowly. It’s a USP that on the page has limited appeal yet, unusually for today’s music industry, the Duluth trio have increased their fan-base with each album.
Initially linked with the slowcore movement alongside the Red House Painters, they’ve since gone on to explore the dynamics of grunge and, on recent album Ones And Sixes to experiment with programming.
These varied styles have nonetheless been absorbed into the band’s unique sound rather than being allowed to dominate it.
A case in point is the epic ‘Lullaby’ from 1994’s debut If I Could Live In Hope. New planets form between Alan Sparhawk’s guitar notes yet, while nothing particularly happens, his playing becomes more insistent and creates increasing tension that makes it absolutely mesmerizing.
A similar dynamic is played out on set closer ‘Landslide’, which mangles messy emotions with post-grunge guitar that continues to stretch out long after the vocals have ceased. These sprawling instrumental passages, which are Sparhawk’s wildcards, are rooted throughout by his wife Mimi Parker’s sparse drumming.
In the same way, his frequently cracked vocals are held in perfect counterbalance by the purity of Parker’s seemingly effortless delivery. This harmonic contrast is arguably the band’s most beguiling feature and they’re at their best when it’s fully exploited. ‘No Comprende’, for instance, sees Parker singing an alternate hymnal vocal line to Sparhawk’s lead while set opener ‘Gentle’ has them swapping leads on different verses.
If the often-brooding material threatens to become too intense then they also know how to surprise and show their lighter side. A curveball cover of Al Green’s ‘Let’s Stay Together’, built around a tinny drum pattern and Parker’s vocals, suggests how close their sound could get to schmaltz under less forgiving circumstances.
Under these conditions, however, the two-hour ‘Evening With Low’ offers a captivating lowdown of the band’s development over two decades and the benefits of entering life’s more meditative slow lane.
Brudenell Social Club.
By Susan Darlington.