Low and… Jeff Tweedy? Believe it or not, it has happened and to this simple reviewer’s eyes, it feels like pairing Colossus and Wolverine – a match made in geek heaven. Hey, it’s a match as great as Nels Cline dropping by the recent Retribution Gospel Choir album and rocking the joint, know what I mean?
But, yeah, this is the Invisible Way and it’s Low territory, baby, a place that once was a dark but beautiful forest but since The Great Destroyer blew its Drums n Guns around, it has changed drastically. Aw, C’mon, I had to try it!
My point is : Low has found a way to complete change album after album, delivering each time an honest collection of songs with powerful lyrics and diverse musical arrangements, from rock and roll (‘Monkey’ from The Great Destroyer) to eerie minimalistic pieces (‘Take your time’ from Drums & Guns). C’mon was a combination of both old and new and the next stage in the path of Low is this pairing with Mr. Tweedy.
How does it work out? In a nutshell: Low plays alt-country. Now, don’t expect any single lap steel, but do expect songs reminiscent of long drives in God’s country (or El Quinto Averno for the Spanish speakers).
Take album opener, ‘Plastic Cup’, with its breezy rhythm, sparse drumming and almost undetectable bass. The lovely harmonies created by the tug of war that is the vocals of Alan Sparhawk and Mimi Parker add those sprinkles of magic that make the drive through the endless fields bliss. It’s a slightly cheerful beginning, one which won’t last.
‘Amethyst’ is a chilling track, a combination of the almost glacial pace, the mournful piano and some impeccable lyrical work. “The color bleeds and fades to white / what used to be a violent mind” is such a stark reminder of the passage of time and the closing “You’re nobody’s stupid girl” is a succinct statement.
If there’s something that characterises Low is how it doesn’t need distortions nor screams to give you goosebumps. ‘So blue’ has this piano intro that heralds a triumphant march and the solemn ‘Four score’ says so much with its whispers and low-flying attitude. You could try and crank up a Zvex distortion all the way and you’d struggle to get to the chilling effects that the harmonies created just by the mere vocals and minimalistic instrumentation of Low do.
The alt-country flavour is quite noticeable in tracks like ‘Holy Ghost’, ‘Clarence White’ and ‘Waiting’, where the city-bred Slocore joins forces with the trusty survival skills of Americana to render these sweet three tracks.
Every Low album has “that moment” where you drop to your knees and raise your arms to the sky above, waiting both absolution and feed from the Sun, relishing on the moment. For The Invisible Way this happens twice. Firstly with ‘Just make it stop’, tapping that lovely 70s sound that was lost on AM so many decades ago. Mimi Parker‘s voice is just perfect in this song and if you can afford a song, buy this one. You’ll end up buying the rest of the album afterwards. The second moment? Well, you know? Sometimes the loudest guitar solo becomes a thunderous storm when it appears out of the blue in a very quiet album. This happens in the astonishing ‘On My Own’, where Alan Sparhawk‘s wistful vocals do a slow dance with our hearing canals. After a few repeats of “on my own“, an explosion catalysed by a crunching guitar solo paired with some stern piano notes knock it out of the ballpark.
‘To our knees’ is the introspective closing number for The Invisible Way and it feels cinematic, like what you’d place in the closing credits (black and white photos, natch) of a film. It’s a perfect denouement, courtesy of these veterans. 20 years on and they still demand your attention. ¡Bravo, genios!
Words: Sam J. Valdés López