Low The Great Destroyer

[Sub Pop; 2005]

Rating: 2.5/5

Styles: indie rock, slowcore
Others: Bedhead, Nick Cave, p:ano, Yo La Tengo

Congratulations Low! You've finally left that slowcore tag behind! I can understand, as you've aged, how you wouldn't want to be pigeonholed. But what I always felt was cool about you is that you made slow, seemingly mellow music as heavy and gripping as it could be soothing. I was a little wary of your new single, "California." Something about it seemed a little limp and, consequently uncharacteristic. Now, listening to it amidst your first three ill-conceived rockers on The Great Destroyer, it seems a little bit better (but not much). I'm sorry, but the pissed-off, fuzzed-out environs of "Monkey" and "Everybody's Song" just don't work for you guys. I like that you're continuing to try new things (I loved the rumbling dirges like "Candy Girl" on Trust), but I believe you've stumbled into some pretty fallow territory that "Canada" couldn't have preempted. You're starting to sound generic.

I'm happy you're on a bigger label, I suppose, but I'm not sure how much more exposure Sub Pop will get you. You needn't do tracks like the opening three or the sing-songily angry "Just Stand Back." They don't just lack that traditional Low edge, but they're pretty wimpy and unmoving as rock songs. My personal favorite, "On the Edge Of," fares much better in this light. It's got some compelling, Pink Floyd-inspired soaring guitars and the kind of achingly poignant chorus that only Low can do. It's reminiscent of the best stuff from your last two releases, and it almost makes me want to like the preceding four songs (actually "Silver Rider" is pretty great). I sort of knew the three of you would be more aggressively tackling direct rock textures in the future and was optimistic. But now that I've heard the results, I have to say I liked it better when you'd reserve only one or two songs for that sort of thing.

What's always been great about the best of your songs is that they don't need a lot of studio augmentation to work their magic. And they've always been kind of sad, but tunes like "Monkey", "Everybody's Song" and "Step" (that "I am the walrus" line is a real flinch-inducer) are just maudlin and stale. I implore you, do more songs like "When I Go Deaf" (which rocks out splendidly, towards the end, I might add) or "Cue the Strings." The more cluttered producer David Friedman gets your tracks, the less power they contain. It's a vulgar rejection of everything that's made music fans fall in love with you, and while it may be cathartic for you, its effect is more nauseating than anything else. The bombast of "When I Go Deaf" works wonders because of its unexpected, bracing arrival. It's a triumphant moment that successfully makes me forget the ugliness of the preceding misstep. The tepidness, this time with a more saccharine tone, unfortunately reemerges for "Broadway (So Many People)," whose quiet to loud shift isn't nearly as rewarding and intense as it is on "When I Go Deaf."

I'll stop the track-by-track, just to ensure you that I've thoroughly digested your album. I've absorbed it on headphones, on my stereo, with some fellow Low fans and I've second-guessed myself to death. After all this, as wary as I may be about the direction you're taking, I still have a great respect and love for the music you make. Just because I find The Great Destroyer half a good album, half disastrously wrong, doesn't mean you guys are on a slippery slope. Whatever it is you guys wind up releasing in the coming years, I won't let my reservations keep me from giving it a fair shot. You're certainly having a prolific enough recording career to warrant a handful of missteps.

1. Monkey
2. California
3. Everybody's Song
4. Silver Rider
5. Just Stand Back
6. On the Edge Of
7. Cue the Strings
8. Step
9. When I Go Deaf
10. Broadway (So Many People)
11. Pissing
12. Death of a Salesman
13. Walk Into the Sea

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