Album: LOW, C'mon (Sub Pop)
Friday 01 April 2011
It's been exactly four years since Low's Drums and Guns, which uncharacteristically focused mostly on a single issue, an extended meditation on the war in Iraq.
C'mon finds them reverting to more diverse, frequently abstruse subject-matter, and also returning to the same former Catholic church in which they recorded 2002's Trust, a place favoured for the way its natural reverb suits their group vocals.
The most important change, however, is the replacement of the producer Dave Fridmann with Matt Beckley, best known for his work with such as Kate Perry and Avril Lavigne. It's not, to be frank, a good move: where Fridmann's affinity for their sound brought the best out of songs like "Monkey" and "Silver Rider" (both recently covered by Robert Plant), Beckley seems well out of his comfort zone, uncertain what to make of something like "Witches", a rumination on fighting back against malevolent mysticism, which grunges along sluggishly for a while, tries out a smidgeon of banjo, then offers a brusque dismissal of "all you guys out there trying to act like Al Green", before coming to a sudden, abrupt halt.
It seems like they just ran out of interest, and gave up. Nor does Beckley bring much of interest to "Majesty/Magic", a typically slow-burning trudge that takes four minutes to go nowhere in particular, ending up as a dour processional rather than the intended epiphany. Equally frustrating in its static, underdeveloped condition is the eight-minute-long "Nothing But Heart", which resolves into a lengthy, repetitive coda of "I'm nothing but heart", in "Hey Jude" manner, but nowhere near as memorable.
The sparkling paean "Nightingale" is better, its glistening high tones set against the trio's featherbed vocal harmonies. And the waltzing waves of guitar arpeggios on Mimi Parker's "Especially Me" are nicely handled, providing a secure base over which the beguiling innocence of its opening romantic gambit eventually dissipates into surreal mystery: "Some songs feel like leather/ Some songs sound like cake/ this little number is for your sake/ 'Cos if we knew where we belonged/ there'd be no doubt where we'd gone". Come again?
If there's a theme tying the songs (loosely) together, it seems to involve dreams and dangers. The bedtime twinkle of glockenspiel opens the album with "Try to Sleep", which appears to be about the way we involuntarily confront our waking fears in our dreams. Ten tracks on, things conclude with the lovely "Something's Turning Over", in which the fears of childhood return to haunt the adult – a cycle that leads back to the album's beginning again, an endless wheel of anxiety and apprehension that never ceases, just gets more familiar. "You better get out while you can," sings Alan Sparhawk, "get out while you're young." But where do you go to escape your fears?
DOWNLOAD THIS Try to Sleep; Especially Me; Nightingale; Something's Turning Over
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