Friday, February 11, 2011
review- low- 'c'mon'
i pre-ordered low's newest record 'c'mon' yesterday. if you order directly from sub pop you are linked to a stream of the whole thing, which was enough to motivate me to do so. i've been very excited about the prospect of this newest low album as it's being billed as sort of a 'return to form' type of record. i bought 'the great destroyer' and loved about half of it, while the other half i wasn't so happy with- most of which i chalked up to dave fridmann's production style, which really doesn't suit a band like low at all in my opinion. as far as 'drums and guns' goes i only heard a few of the tracks from it as i hated the way they sounded and couldn't bring myself to buy it. i even saw them play at the metro in 2007 and several of the 'drums and guns' songs that they played were quite good live but also completely different from their weird arrangements on the record (again, i blame mr. fridmann). i'd all but given up on low, in fact, since it seemed that alan sparhawk was having more success with retribution gospel choir and was most likely more excited about that particular project. gradually the pull of low began anew with a little gem of a four song ep entitled 'live at eindhoven'- a little nugget from what sounds like a whopper of a show to witness where low played in a church (probably the most appropriate of venues to witness them in, to be honest) backed by a choir. even 'monkey' sounds amazing, which has never been one of my favorite low tracks. not long after news dropped of this newest low record, 'c'mon,' which was recorded in the same church that 2002's excellent 'trust' was recorded in. thus it's being billed as a return to form record, which isn't entirely the truth.
my first impressions of 'c'mon' are that the band took the ideas that they were trying to introduce on 'trust' and 'the great destroyer' and synthesized them in a way that works beautifully. those two records i felt were always infused with a bit of an awkward foray into poppier territory for the band unlike anything else they'd attempted before. the earliest indication of this would be 'dinosaur act' from 2000's high-water mark for the kranky years, 'things we lost in the fire.' i've always felt that 'trust' suffered from the 'first record released after the career highlight' syndrome. it was the first record they recorded on their own and came right on the heels of their fruitful collaboration with steve albini, who gave them their two best sounding records. the production on 'trust' sounds a bit slap-dash at times and you can hear the band figuring things out as they go along. it makes for some incredibly stirring moments, but the record occasionally hiccups in its transitions from the incredibly stripped-down tracks like 'in the drugs,' to the obviously pop-leaning 'last snowstorm of the year' and the joyful, hooky, bombastic 'canada' (probably the best of all hard-rocking low songs) all sitting alongside long-form 'classic' low-sounding tracks like the beautiful '(that's how you sing) amazing grace' and the more abstract-sounding 'shots and ladders.' with 'the great destroyer' this awkward poppy inclination manifests itself a bit more assuredly on tracks like 'broadway, so many people,' but falls on its face on songs like 'monkey' or 'california'- mainly the casualties of fridmann's style of production. bombast and noisy layering doesn't work so well for the type of delicate melodies that low works with. 'c'mon' has much more in the way of poppy moments, but they are pulled off with a great deal more confidence. 'try to sleep' is the most perfect and obvious choice for a single, but there are plenty of other moments on the record that mine similar, shimmering melodic content and do so much more successfully than anything on 'the great destroyer.'
the structure of the record is sort of a peaks and valleys approach- a poppy, driving song is paired with an elegant, beautiful song. this structure reaches its zenith near the end of the record with the combination of the jaw-droppingly beautiful 'nightingale' and the record's sole slow-burner 'nothing but heart' into the stark closing track 'something's turning over.' 'nothing but heart' is sort of the key to the entire record- it begins with dirty guitars and sparhawk's raw-sounding voice (it seems as though he recorded all of his vocals while he had a cold) building into a fairly standard low rocker and blooms into a beautiful hooky singalong that finds the band utlizing their recording space to achieve a nice build-up and comedown. the track is eight minutes long, but never feels it even for a second.
basically this 'return to form' record is anything but. this is the sound of low using what they know how to do best to achieve something they've been reaching for over the course of their last two records. in the process of succeeding in this endeavor this record is also infused with a feeling of rejuvination and inspiration that's rare to hear in a band this far into their career. they came dangerously close to complete burn-out, but managed to pull themselves out of it and stake another high watermark in the process. i can't wait to hear how these songs sound live.