The Great Destroyer
"Power trio" is a term not often used these days, certainly not in reference to Low, whose 10 albums have been an extended exercise in restraint. A relentless, deliberate, mesmerizing lethargy has made the Duluth group the champions of slowcore, and though guitarist Alan Sparhawk and his drummer wife Mimi Parker's Mormon creed never rises explicitly to the surface in their music, their oeuvre packs more spiritual heft than most indie groups. Low's songs are less dirges than processionals written for a church that counts Ian Curtis among its martyrs. Then again, their belief in the Latter-day Saints didn't stop them from recording 2002's "Canada," an elaborate, sped-up joke about pot smuggling that sounded distinctly like the work of, well, a rock band.
While their new album won't draw comparisons to Cream, it suggests that something has been unleashed beyond Low's usual reserve. The opener, "Monkey," is a rocker with a chorus that verges on snarling: "Tonight you will be mine/Tonight the monkey dies." Whether or not said primate is on its way to heaven, Sparhawk intends to make up for lost time. Handling the lead vocals with Parker mostly harmonizing, he takes all matters pop into his own hands. "Just Stand Back" is a neo-Byrds number complete with a catchy bridge and an edge. "I could turn on you so fast," he warns us.
The Great Destroyer cycles through several other un-Low modes. (Fans demanding reverb orthodoxy should refer to the gently excellent "Silver Rider" and the weaker "Broadway.") "Death of a Salesman" is a straight, mournful folk ballad. We're treated to fuzzed vocals on "Sure" and a Neil Young-style guitar break on "When I Go Deaf." The bright mid-tempo chug of "California" recalls Yo La Tengo. Now there's a versatile trio, also two-thirds married couple, from whom Low seems to have learned a lesson: You don't always have to play it slow.