Low is an indie rock group from Duluth, Minnesota, and their sound is about as minimal as rock music could possibly get. Their minimalist sound was originally started as a joke, but eventually, the joke became a serious thought, as they wondered what would happen if they played quiet music to rock audiences, who were at the time into the loud grunge and post-punk scene. They created minimal guitar melodies and used reportedly a drum kit with only a single cymbal and a floor tom, played exclusively with brushes. Their performances would be so quiet that it would be susceptible to background chatter, in which their earlier performances were faced by unsympathetic and inattentive audiences, and they responded by only lowering the volume more, and even at a 1996 South by Southwest performance, their sound was overpowered by a Scandinavian hardcore band that was booked downstairs. Since then, their sound has been a little louder and more emphatic, but it still contains a stunningly simple and minimalist rock sound. Their newest album, “C’mon”, is no different, even when it combines more instrumentation like violin, lap steel guitar, and a banjo to create lush and beautiful atmospheres. This album is only proving more that this year, music is changing into a different direction than ever before. The mainstream music industry may continue to put out whatever music they want, but in the independent world of music, the sound is changing so rapidly that it will only be a matter of time before everyone stops listening completely to mainstream music, no matter how loud or catchy it sounds, and will start paying more attention to the details of music like this.
The album begins with “Try to Sleep”, which begins with an ambient, reversed guitar sound, before it leads into a slow, minimal rock composition filled with guitar, light drums, bass, and what sounds to be a glockenspiel, covered in a lush, natural reverb which comes from the studio that they recorded in, which is actually a former Catholic church in Duluth, and where they actually recorded their 2002 album, “Trust”. Sparhawk and Parker’s vocal harmonies on this track are beautiful as ever, and the arrangement and orchestration of the instruments here are stunningly beautiful for as minimal as they are. A great start to the album, as it sets the tone for what is to come. “You See Everything” begins with light drumming and more beautiful guitar melodies alongside Parker’s beautiful vocal harmonies, which also has more glockenspiel at times. The chorus is also breathtakingly beautiful. The sound is never loud, nor is it distorted. It is all clean instrumentation, which proves that rock music doesn’t have to be loud and distorted in order to be exciting. Also, I think I might be hearing some violins or something in the mix, but it is hard for me to tell. Maybe further listens will help to clear that up. “Witches” starts with some distorted guitar hits before leading into a sublimely slow and lush arrangement. Sparhawk’s vocals here are as beautiful as ever, singing lyrics about a time when a father tells a boy about witches in his room, and how to defeat them. There is also some folksy banjo on this track as well, as well as a distorted guitar solo at some points. Overall, as distorted and lush as the composition is, it is still stunningly minimalistic and is quite a beautiful track. “Done” is the shortest track on the album at less than 3 minutes long, containing Sparhawk and Parker’s vocal harmonies, some lap steel guitar, a light guitar groove, and some banjo near the end. The track sounds almost like a country song, except that there is a subtle use of drums on the track, and the atmosphere is ambient overall. “Especially Me” begins with an ambient guitar riff, followed by a slow drum rhythm. Guitars eventually enter, compressed by the kick of the drums. The vocal harmonies here are yet again beautiful, with a hint of melancholia, and more glockenspiel is featured. A violin is featured in the middle of the track, along with some stunning, cinematic-like drum hits, and the track ends out in an ambient style. It should also be mentioned that the reverb and ambience on this track adds to the atmosphere of the track overall, and as lush and orchestrated as the track is, it still retains the minimalist style of Low’s tracks.
The second half of the album begins with “$20”, which begins with Sparhawk’s vocals and the simple strums of a guitar, before leading into the vocal harmonies of both Sparhawk and Parker, with bass and subtle drum hits. It is a relatively short song, but still filled with a lot of power. “Majesty/Magic” begins with the picks of a guitar, before Sparhawk enters with more beautiful vocals, as well as a soft drum kick. Parker also provides some harmonies to Sparhawk’s vocals occasionally. The song dynamically builds up steam, with guitar and bass strums, along with the drums become louder slowly, before a distorted guitar enters on top of it all. The song then slows down with subtle guitar strums and soft distorted feedback before going out. “Nightingale” begins with beautiful, jazz-like chords over a soft drum rhythm. Sparhawk and Parker’s vocal harmonies are also equally beautiful on this track, and the whole atmosphere is just stunning and sublime, sounding about as close to an old 1950s ballad or to something that would have been played on the TV show “Twin Peaks”. “Nothing But Heart”, the longest track on the album at over 8 minutes, begins with distorted guitar rhythms before leading into a quiet, slow arrangement filled with vocal harmonies, light guitar and drums, and distant steel guitar licks, which slowly builds throughout into some beautiful guitar solos that sound country-tinged, but yet are still as close to indie rock as ever. Even at times, the vibrato on the guitar is so extreme that it sounds more like a Theremin or Ondes Martenot, which shows just how great the guitar the sound, as well as there is extreme guitar tapping and tremolo picking as the song gets louder throughout, which then ends with synthesizer or organ-like chords. The last track, “Something’s Turning Over”, is a folk/country-tinged rock song that sounds very happy and optimistic in terms of the vocal harmonies, guitar chords, and the atmosphere, though the lyrics otherwise sound sort of like a black comedy (“Something’s turning over/You better get out while you can” or “Angels setting fire to the ocean”). The track ends out in sort of a happy way, with sunshine pop-sounding vocals by Sparhawk, Parker, and perhaps even a children’s choir somewhere in there, and as the track ends, so does the album.
Overall, Low’s “C’mon” is perhaps one of the best indie rock albums of the year. Whereas Low has kept their minimalist sound, they have refined and evolved it by using more variety of instrumentation (lap steel guitar, violin, and banjo), more beautiful vocal harmonies, and some impressive songwriting that verges on the edge of dark humor at times to create a lush and sublimely atmospheric rock album that shows that you don’t need electronics, rapping, or whatever mainstream music is doing these days to create a great album. Low’s album is great simply because of their humbleness and minimalist tendencies, which they’ve used to their advantage to create a great-sounding album. The sound may be distorted at times, but it doesn’t rely on it, and it just fits in like the rest of the instrumentation on the album. Overall, it’s just a beautiful album. Highly recommended listening.
Genre: Alternative/indie rock
Released in 2011 by Sub Pop
Available now at all major retailers!