Low's music is the living, almost-breathing embodiment of the phrase 'quietly mighty'. How else could this Mormon husband and wife and friend trio have navigated their way steadily through an eight album career that has culminated in arch sonic torture merchant Steve Albini (he's helmed albums by P J Harvey, Nirvana, Theweddingpresent, The Auteurs and Pixies whilst being the lynchpin of Big Black, Rapeman and Shellac during the days) producing a quiet record?
Maybe it was the lyrics about kidnapping that got him interested, because nowhere on "Things We Lost In The Fire" are the guitar avalanches and construction site percussion that star in a typical Albini production. Low fuse the quieter end of the Galaxie 500 back catalogue with Nick Drake sensitivity and a sprinkling of Cowboy Junkies' down home fairy dust, resulting in an album that demands and deserves your attention from the moment the melody of the opening track, "Sunflower", glides into view. If you thrilled to Yo La Tengo's gorgeous "And Nothing Turned Itself Inside-Out" you'll almost certainly enjoy the music of Low: both band's operate in similar less-is-more territory, where every extra listen reveals further layers of filigree detailing in their initially static soundscapes. Added to which, the packaging is gorgeous, the pressing chunkily sufficient and the album's entire lyrics have been etched onto the fourth side of this double vinyl set, a thoughtful touch that seems typical of the level of detail Low fold into their marvellous music.
LOW + DIRTY THREE In The Fishtank 7 (Atomic Recordings/Konkurrent)
"In The Fishtank" is a Dutch project in which likeminded bands are invited to create 20 to 30 minutes of music together within the space of two days. The only previous edition of the series to have excited much attention in this country was volume 5, a discordant and cacophonous meeting between Tortoise and The Ex that rarely strayed within shouting distance of anything musical. Happily session number 7, in which Dirty Three wrap their smoky, jagged strings around Low's systems music hymnals, is a far more satisfactory experience, aided and abetted no doubt by the existing friendship between the bands. Nevertheless there's nothing especially earth-shattering here: it sounds as if both bands are merely sniffing out the boundaries of each other's sonic universes and politely attempting to avoid treading on too many toes. The high point is probably an inside-out cover of Neil Young's "Down By The River", which consists mostly of the rattling, scratching sounds of instruments seemingly left to play by themselves, twitching nerve endings that, over many minutes, coalesce into something that approximates the original melody sufficiently closely for Mimi Parker to commence singing against it. An interesting experiment, and a success on its own modest terms, undoubtedly, but given a choice between half an hour with this or the last Dirty Three or Low albums I know which way the cookie would crumble.
LOW Drums And Guns (Sub Pop)
Lows eighth album swims in the fog of repressed violence half-suggested both by its title (and yes, the insert features pictures of both drums and guns) and tracks called stuff like Hatchet, Your Poison, Murderer and Violent Past. Theres nothing as regimented as a concept going on here, but the album certainly seems to crackle with an understated thematic unity.
Drums And Guns still sounds like Low, but a quietly driven Low, steely-eyed with determination, as if theyre planning a hijack or something. The blunt brutality of much of the music slow, sparse melodies, lead vocals panned hard right throughout suggests a Steve Albini recording. In fact, the albums produced by Dave Fridmann, whos come up with something a world away from his initially enthralling, eventually sickeningly saccharine work with Mercury Rev and The Flaming Lips.
Its a difficult record to pick highlights from, being remarkably consistent across its 13 tracks, though the whimsical Beatles-and-the-Stones-isms of Hatchet usually raises a smile (You be my Marianne and Ill be your Yoko). The insidiously creepy, slithering Murderer and the distorted, droning singalong Violent Past are also memorable. Extra points, too, to Sub Pop for bundling an MP3 download with the vinyl pressing.