Low

    The Great Destroyer

    6
    Sub Pop - January 25, 2005

    The Great Destroyer, Low’s seventh full-length, poses a
    recurring but no less crucial question: Can a band with a long legacy
    built on the strength of a distinct musical identity change course
    successfully? Is it possible to spend a decade molding a sound as
    recognizable as Jack White’s squeal, pull a dramatic U-turn, and still
    retain enough of a definable personality that fans and critics won’t
    throw their drinks in your face? I imagine Alan Sparhawk, Low’s
    guitarist and vocalist, probably wouldn’t give a shit an attitude that, more than anything else, would help pull off such a drastic facelift.

    [more:]

    An equally interesting question is how much these sonic shifts
    have anything to do with changing labels. Suffice it to say that the
    trio left Chicago’s Kranky Records after three releases, nearly lost
    its bass player, signed to Seattle’s monarchical Sup Pop Records, and
    somehow ended up with an album chock-full of standard-rock tempos and
    big, hairy guitar. Ragged tunes such as “Monkey” and “On the Edge Of”
    wouldn’t generally pass for “standard” compared to the funeral-marches
    and whispered acoustics of previous efforts (most notably 1996’s When the Curtain Hits the Cast), but The Great Destroyer
    is a raging bull. In his first time working with the band, producer
    Dave Fridmann has helped construct an album of considerable dynamic
    weight an attribute that isn’t always flattering for a band with a history of mouse-sized dirges and breathless harmonies.

    Still, does it work? Yes and no. It is admirable, and
    in one sense completely understandable, for three people (two of whom,
    Sparhawk and drummer Mimi Parker, are married; they have two children)
    to decide after ten years that some good ol’ distortion might enliven
    the process a bit and make the next ten at Sub Pop worthwhile. The Great Destroyer is full of these little revelations moments
    when Sparhawk’s guitar suddenly transforms a fairly typical Low tune
    into a fairly gorgeous blast of shoegaze glory. In this vein, “When I
    Go Deaf” and “Pissing” are some of the best songs this Duluth trio has
    produced.

    But nearly as much of the album, though perfectly decent indie-rock, is
    really no more than that. There’s an unmistakable early-’90s nostalgia
    that runs through The Great Destroyer‘s
    duller moments, a curious fact given how much of Low’s formative years
    were spent silently, but no less forcibly, bucking that flannelled
    trend. Rockers such as “Everybody’s Song” and “Silver Rider,” both of
    which recall “Canada” from 2002’s Trust, bury Sparhawk’s and
    Parker’s infallible harmonies in a wash of middle-of-the-road crunch.
    Tellingly, it’s when Low paces itself, letting Sparhawk’s Tele comment
    on the proceedings instead of crushing them, that the new effort lives
    up to the back catalog.

    A worthy experiment? Sure. A great record? No. Much of the The Great Destroyer
    left me missing the band I knew or remembering why I bought Low’s
    previous records. And when Low did get it right on the album, it left
    me wondering who I was listening to in the first place.

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