Although they’re definitely against their oft-described ‘slowcore’ description, the music of Low has always seemed fitting for this title. With nine previous albums already under their belt, the duo of Alan Sparhawk and Mimi Parker have remained a constant figure and their vocals, along with their even-tempered music, have always maintained Low’s steadfast consistency. The music has always released on minimal tendencies, with convictions that are usually presented in slower tempos and with, well, low attacks. Working with Wilco’s Jeff Tweedy as producer of their tenth album, The Invisible Way, Low conveys a return to previous qualities that finds them sounding even more relaxed and at home.
One of the album’s that signaled Low’s breakthrough would probably be 2007’s Drums and Guns. Produced by Dave Fridmann (who also produced the band’s terrific The Great Destroyer) the album was displayed with a misty fog that revealed the band sounding cohesive and rather cozy. Songs like “Belarus” combined Sparhawk’s and Parker’s vocals into one distinct sound, while minimal touches like a swirling violin shined like the glistening sun trying to break through the fog. A lot of this changed as the band took four years off before releasing the wide open C’mon. Recorded at a former church, the album immediately took advantage of open spaces with songs that were a little more uptempo and that deliberately channeled a parting sky. Now, they’ve returned to their roots, in a way; working with a producer at the loft in Chicago, who’s known for consciously softer soundscapes.
On both albums that Tweedy has produced for Mavis Staples, he simply allows the singer’s true assets to come to light with sparse production that is unassuming and never gets in the way. This same recipe is used for The Invisible Way as Tweedy’s production aids Low in what is an extremely relaxed vibe. Sparhawk and Parker trade off on the vocals but this time, almost half of the songs solely feature Parker as the lead singer – which is a first for a Low album. The closing song, especially, “To Our Knees,” takes a burning piano line and a chugging guitar as the support to Parker’s emotional words. Whether or not it’s secular in its depiction doesn’t matter because the sheer passion that Parker is evoking transcends beyond any kind of religious matter. The music here is the star and the guitar grows into a soaring counter to Parker’s solemn voice as she closes out the album in an exceptional way.
Perhaps Sparhawk and Parker never had the most talented voices in music but with the way everything is adorned on The Invisible Way, they clearly shine. On “Clarence White” the bluesy stomp of the drums and the tingling of the acoustic guitar once again showcase a sparse instrumentation before Sparhawk’s vocals lend a hand. As a band Low sounds both invigorated and at ease with a style that is reminiscent of old days. It helps to appreciate something like C’mon even more and not because one would say it’s superior but because the two albums are so dissimilar, they’re equals in quality but different in declaration. As the aforementioned stomp takes control, Sparhawk sings about not being afraid and confidently awake, Low surely sounds courageous.
Like many other Low albums, The Invisible Way begins with the traditional slow-moving nature that Low has now perfected before arriving to a deeper surrounding as the album rolls on. This forces the listener to take the album in as a whole to fully realize the band’s scope but it can also be a little frustrating. Then again, Low never seemed like the type of band to make music to please a specific region of fans. Instead, The Invisible Way champions everything that is great about Low and realizes it through a neat and clear lens. It’s a formidable outing and at number ten, a remarkable feat met with solid results.
“So Blue” by Low