After seven years
and more than a decade as a band, the Duluth, Minn., trio Low
continues to surprise listeners with just how much can be done with
a lot of atmosphere and the sparest ingredients of guitar, bass,
drums and vocals.
On "The Great Destroyer," Low continues the move away from the
somnambulant and understated "slowcore" sounds of its earliest
albums that began a few years ago when it worked with Chicagoan
Steve Albini. For the second disc in a row, guitarist-vocalist Alan
Sparhawk, his wife, drummer-vocalist Mimi Parker, and bassist Zak
Sally recorded in upstate New York with Dave Fridmann, who's best
known for the lush, orchestral sound he's brought to the Flaming
Lips and Mercury Rev. But more than any studio trickery, the album
succeeds because of the strength of the songwriting.
I spoke with Sparhawk while the group was on tour, driving its
van through the Holland Tunnel en route to a show in Manhattan.
LOW, PEDRO THE LION
Metro, 3730 N. Clark
Tickets, $16 (18-over show)
Q. Tell me about making this album, Alan.
A. I hate to be anti-mysterious or anything, but I'm
really happy with it. We had wanted to work with Dave [Fridmann] for
some time, but had never really gotten to the record where it was
like, "Ding! This one has to be with Dave." But I knew that if I was
going to do pop songs again, I want to make sure they sound right.
Q. So you consider this a pop record?
A. That was part of working with Dave. I knew he'd do a
good job no matter what we brought him, but I knew this album was
going to have some songs that were going to be louder, a little more
aggressive, and ... I don't know, I don't want to call it "pop,"
because essentially we've been making pop music all our lives. It's
just that sometimes if you're going to do a certain kind of song,
you need someone to really do that thing and just exploit it -- make
it big when that chorus comes in -- and Dave's the guy for that.
We noticed when we were starting to write these songs that they
were pushing us toward a louder, more aggressive thing, and we said,
"You know, we always regret when we stifle that. Let's just let it
rip, let's go, let's do it." It wasn't so much, "Let's make a loud
record" as it was, "Let's record these songs the way they want to be
recorded instead of sticking them in a box." It was exciting, and
I'm happy we did that. It's confusing a lot of fans and a lot of
critics, but it gives them something to talk about. Despite the fact
that it took 12 years to do something that sounds this different
from our first record, every record we do, we usually try to push it
a little bit, and push ourselves into a place where we're
uncomfortable. Hopefully, that keeps people listening.
Q. Critical shorthand seems to hold that Low gets
louder with every new album. How do you think the sound has
developed over the last few releases?
A. When we started, we had our rules that we placed upon
ourselves: We were the slow, quiet band, and we were comfortable
exploring the possibilities of that. But I think as we explored
that, we took on new factors. On the last couple of records, we were
kind of dipping into something else, but we were a little cautious.
This time, with everything we've been going through and a certain
maturity in the band, we just went for it.
Q. There seems to be a conceptual construction for this
album, but I'm not sure I follow it.
A. When I saw these recurring themes happening, I thought,
"Oh, that's interesting." I wouldn't say there's a really defined
flow and story from song to song, there are just a lot of references
to this character "The Great Destroyer." Sometimes it's talking
about him or something that he or she is doing, and sometimes it
feels like the song is in the voice of the character, like the last
few songs on the record. At the time we were making it, I didn't
necessarily have any huge concepts. But now that we've done it, it
seems like this character is a way for me to say what it would be
like if you woke up one day and realized that you were the devil or
the source of all the negativity in the world.
REASONS FOR LIVING
Although this writer tries
to stand as an exception, too much rock criticism reads as if it's written
in a foreign language, full of bizarre terms and arcane references that
require a dictionary to decipher.
After a series of features in Vanity Fair's annual music issue, David
Kamp and Steven Daly, rock critics themselves, have finally provided that
resource with The Rock Snob's Dictionary: An Essential Lexicon of
Rockological Knowledge (Broadway Books, $12.95).
While the tome is obnoxiously snarky at times, so are many
hipper-than-thou rock critics, and now mere mortals have a place to turn
when they're befuddled by inscrutable phrases such as "electroclash," "skronk,"
"Fairlight," "krautrock" and "math rock." As an example, the book defines
the latter as, "Ridiculous micro-trend whose indie-rock practitioners
abruptly shift time signatures from one bar to the next."
Now you know.