Record Review: Low’s C’mon

Low: C'monLow: C’mon (Sub Pop, 4/12/11)

Low: “Try to Sleep”

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After more than 15 years of stringing together grim, minimalist lullabies that are equally at home on long walks through moonless winter eves or in well-lit churches, slowcore stalwart Low has begun to experiment a bit more with the trappings of, and opportunities created by, modern music. On its ninth record, C’mon, the band blends its signature brand of melancholia with bouncing, uptempo electronic textures, giving the 11 songs a lively, volatile feel.

In the third track, “Witches,” guitarist/singer Alan Sparhawk advises listeners to confront their problems with a baseball bat, and in the same spare voice, he tells guys who “are trying to act like Al Green” that they are weak. He sings this over drummer/vocalist Mimi Parker’s characteristically haunting “ooos” and “ahhs,” while a choppy, lighthearted guitar riff drifts over barely audible acoustic-guitar (or banjo?) plucking. Much like the song “Hatchet” on the band’s previous effort, Drums and Guns, “Witches” is a catchy number that adeptly references select facets of pop-music history and, in doing so, reveals a playful side of the band.

Another place where Low shines is in setting a mood, via the literal language of childhood, to highlight adult hang-ups and anxieties. “Something’s Turning Over” illustrates everything that is great about the band: a simple, instantly memorable melody, serpentine male/female harmonizing, and biblical, apocalyptic imagery. Listeners are reminded that the “things we turn our backs on when we’re older / only drag us back into our beds,” and Sparhawk urges us to “get out” while we’re young. It’s a powerful statement and a beautiful sentiment — and the dark reality to which it alludes is that we all gotta grow up. And growing up, much more than youth, requires evil. It’s a death trip.

Overall, C’mon is a nice, subtle departure from Low’s usual codeine-coated, shimmering, slow-motion narcolepsy. Many of the songs on this album are more punchy and upbeat than any release to date, but they’re still punctuated by the stripped-bare emotional honesty for which the band has come to be known. Listeners will hear “ahems,” children’s intonations, and strange little asides cropping up throughout the record, pulling back the curtain on the recording process and lending the record a clever but laid-back undertone. Still, the emotional honesty of the music will chase its way into your head, and by the time that you’re done listening to the eight-minute opus “Nothing But Heart,” in which Sparhawk repeats those same three words over and over, you can’t help but be moved.