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There is no such thing as a bad Low album, just good, very good and mediocre. Their last effort ‘C’mon‘ had a few killer songs but also a fair few forgettable ones. It seems since the wild experimentation of the very good ‘Drums and Guns’ they have retreated into a safe Low-shaped hole and are content to repeat their slow moving tricks in slightly different ways. This new album, produced by Jeff Tweedy of the criminally overrated Wilco, probably falls into the good camp. I’m assured by colleagues that it’s a grower despite a few of my misgivings that it’s a bit...well...boring.
It’s certainly true that this is the Low album that is most likely to appeal to your Mojo/Uncut reader. It starts brilliantly, ‘Plastic Cup’ has plenty of oomph about it with their trademark brushed drums, this time augmented by acoustic instruments, guitars and pianos, with Alan and Mimi’s vocal harmonies as good as ever. My favourite track on the album is the second track ‘Amethyst’ which perfectly encapsulates that Neil Young-on-sleeping pills vibe of a lot of their best work. The chords descend slowly, the vocals unfurl beautifully, it’s a crawling acoustic treat up there with their best work.
It’s track three ‘So Blue’ where the warning signs start, it starts nicely enough with rolling piano chords and Mimi’s beautiful voice but towards the end the vocals seem to become slightly excessive and jar in the way that some of the more strained vocals on ‘Trust’ did. ‘Holy Ghost’ is Low at their most conventional, straying towards Cowboy Junkies territory, this is continued on ‘Waiting’ - all three tracks use very similar timbre to the vocals which grates a little. The understated arrangements recall the production on Lambchop records, all dry acoustic guitars and piano twinkles. ‘Clarence White’ though is a lovely song and one of the highlights of the record with a neat boom-tit drum pattern and a classic melody.
As has been noted in all the reviews, Mimi is centre stage throughout with Alan taking a back seat which will please a lot of Low fans who would like more of her than the usual two or three songs she is allowed to sing per album. She shines on ‘Just Make it Stop’ which races along in comparison to most of the material and is one of the most impressive and memorable moments on the record.
Low retain plenty of their charm, strong songwriting, neat harmonies but I feel that the production is (probably intentionally) very flat and unimaginative. It’s a very ‘safe’ album, devoid of any sonic exploration or surprises, almost like Low goes acoustic. To many people this will be a very good thing, a consistent Low record that utilises their songwriting and singing abilities but holds back on any kind of experimentation/progression.
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