by Mason Pitzel
The Invisible Way
For the whole of their 20-year career, Low have been purveyors of slowcore — the goofy and unnecessary name given to the quiet, brooding strain of indie rock they pioneered with their first LP. They’ve usually coloured within those lines, pitting guitarist Alan Sparhawk’s icy drones against drummer Mimi Parker’s sparse pitter-patter, with their stunning voices as their greatest asset. Their last decade has seen bits of experimentation, though: 2005’s The Great Destroyer was curiously loud and now The Invisible Way, their 10th LP, finds them dabbling in alt-country.
You have Jeff Tweedy of Wilco to credit for that, as the band took him on as producer after visiting Wilco’s studio on their last tour. Somewhat predictably, his stamp is all over the record. The songs are performed mostly with piano, acoustic guitar and handclaps, which makes the album incredibly intimate, and brings out the Gram-and-Emmylou nature of Sparhawk and Parker’s vocals in the process. Fans of Parker’s voice will be glad to hear her taking lead on a record five songs –– often against choirs of her own voice, as on the dusky stand-out “Just Make It Stop”.
This isn’t the first time Low have trotted out the acoustic instruments, but they’ve never relied on them this much before. Unfortunately they’re not always a great fit. The piano gets way too dramatic on “So Blue”, yet Sparhawk’s usually inventive playing is cut down to campfire chords on “Holy Ghost” and “Mother”. It’s rustic, sure, but a bit dull. Of course, since this approach is something they’ll either perfect or abandon next time, it’s not a huge worry. The Invisible Way is a pleasant experiment and a decent way to mark their platinum anniversary.