LOW – The Invisible Way (RCA)

Hot on the heels of the live ‘Plays Nice Places’ comes Low’s new, Jeff Tweedy-produced album ‘The Invisible Way’. This is the band’s 10th album, and yet I bet half the membership have never heard of the band. They have been plugging away in a genre they pretty much invented – slowcore – and have yet to release a dud album, with this one being no exception. For this release Alan Sparhawk’s songs seem to be somewhat accusatory at the world in general, with opener ‘Plastic Cup’ looking down on those who get high and the subsequent drug testing, and other songs railing against war, love and archaeology (!). ‘Amethyst’ is just classic Low, and would sit easily on any of their previous albums, and ‘So Blue’ is one of five songs where Mimi Parker takes lead vocals – the most she has been granted on an album, and possibly Tweedy’s influence? For this song she is double tracked to provide her own backing vocals, and it does give the song a distinctive sound, but without Sparhawk’s sonorous voice it doesn’t really sound like Low. ‘Holy Ghost’ is better, and another Parker lead, but this time the music is minimal and the pace more lethargic – the Low I know and love. ‘Four Score’ is another of their unhurried offerings, with the gorgeous harmonies and sparse musical backing making it a highlight. ‘Just Make It Stop’ is one of their fastest and most commercial songs, and I guess I can see why it was released as the first single, although anyone buying the album after hearing this as their first ever taste of the band is going to be scratching their heads at Low’s more traditional fare. ‘Mother’ is such an example, just voice and piano, and mournful lyrics – quite a comedown after the jauntiness of the single. ‘On My Own’ might just be voice and guitar, but has a lovely melody and just as you are floating off to its lush harmonies Sparhawk’s guitar erupts from the speakers to give us a three-minute feedback soaked, atonal guitar solo that Neil Young would be proud of, culminating in a repeated refrain of ‘Happy Birthday, Happy Birthday, Happy Birthday’. Mimi closes the album with ‘To Our Knees’, once again showing how affecting just a voice and a guitar can be. Tweedy’s production on this album is understated, with him pretty much letting the band get on and do what they do best, but there are a couple of times where I can hear him push them just a little too far in a direction that the fans might not be comfortable with. Overall, though, this album is no let-down and if the single gets a few more people interested in the band then that can only be a good thing. I just hope they’re not disappointed when they hear what the band normally sound like, as, love them as I do, even I have to admit they can be something of an acquired taste.

Plastic Cup