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Fans of slow, sad music should rejoice because Low’s latest album is some of the best you can find. Don’t be fooled – this is isn’t background music or music to fall asleep to. It’s far too engaging for that. Simple instrumentation plays the role of backdrop to Alan Sparhawk (what a cool name!) and Mimi Parker’s vocals in intense, brooding songs about estrangement and spirituality.
The formula here isn’t too difficult to figure out: gorgeous vocal harmonies, check; gentle guitar, check; thundering piano, check; pounding floor tom, check. For a band with such minimal percussion, they manage to be awfully powerful sounding – especially in “On My Own,” where loud fuzzed-out guitars spring from the woodwork. It’s reminiscent of the Dead Man soundtrack and Hex; Or Printing in the Infernal Method by Earth. Another band that comes to mind is Carissa’s Wierd, whose melancholic and minimal compositions bear a great similarity to Low. Still, there’s hopefulness captured in the melodic nature of the songs.
Perhaps what makes the album most exciting are the shared vocal duties. Sparhawk and Parker have been crafting down-tempo, heart-wrenching duets for twenty-or-so years in Low and they’ve got the male/female harmony thing down to a science. There’s a great lushness instilled in these songs thanks to their voices. They’ve been aptly compared before to Emmylou Harris and Gram Parsons, and though Low is by no means a country outfit, they possess the same sort of bittersweet romance that Emmylou and Gram evoked. Their voices are strikingly symbiotic and convey emotion in a way that neither could do alone. Lyrically, the album is sparse, managing to stretch relatively few words across its songs, which is fitting given Low’s stripped-down approach to music. Subject matter is not always clear and the songs don’t seem particularly narrative. They seem to encapsulate simple emotions rather than stories. The closest thing to a ballad on here is “Holy Ghost.”
The production on The Invisible Way is perfectly smooth, but never flat. It is massive and warm sounding with an abundance of nuance, which should come as no surprise given that it was produced by the masterful Jeff Tweedy of Wilco fame. It’s definitely the sort of record that merits listening through in whole sittings. There’s no fluff or filler so don’t cherry pick mp3’s for this one. Really, you should ditch your iPod and listen to it first on a good pair of speakers or headphones. It’s been pressed to vinyl, so you don’t really have an excuse not to listen to it the right way.