Low - C’mon (Sub Pop)

Whisper it, but a contender for record of the year.

Released Apr 21st, 2011 via Sub Pop / By Simon Harper
Low - C’mon (Sub Pop) At times hymnal and alternating between hushed, serene vignettes and explosive volume, Low are a band of contrasts and have regularly subverted expectations. The husband-and-wife pairing of Alan Sparhawk and Mimi Parker, joined by bassist Steve Garrington, release their ninth studio album and it’s an utterly beguiling record.

Once at the head of the so-called slowcore movement, the Minnesota trio have progressively developed their sound to incorporate other elements – while the airy, spectral atmospheres, gentle layers and skyscraping harmonies remain in place, there’s now a warmth which was sometimes missing before, despite the intimacy of their earlier output. The change really gathered pace on 2005’s The Great Destroyer, produced by Dave Fridmann, and C’mon rivals that album for breadth and intensity.

Aided by guests including Wilco’s Nels Cline, this outing piviots on the duelling vocals of Sparhawk and Parker, and watches the three-piece build songs which appear slight yet powerful, and deeply affecting. ‘Witches’ introduces banjo which adds warmth to the otherwise impassioned track, while ‘$20’ brings quiet intensity in a way that only Low can; creeping guitar and bass underscoring the intertwining vocals on this downbeat duet.

‘Majesty Magic’ amplifies the feeling even further, delicate melody giving way to coruscating volume and dissonance, with Sparhawk at the forefront using restrained feedback for additional texture. The folky closing track ‘Something’s Turning Over’ is at times reminiscent of REM at their most rustic (circa Green), combining sweet melody with a macabre lyrical undertone, at odds with the sun-kissed harmonies which wouldn’t sound out of place on a Free Design record.

Arguably the stand-out track, though, is ‘Nightingale’. With guitar drenched in reverb, it gives the illusion of being simultaneously sparse and dense; in truth, it’s a deceptively simple song which wrings great emotional resonance from a small number of elements, dealing in a raw subtlety which has become a signature of their work.

For a band who have enjoyed so many beautifully crafted moments in their career, C’mon nevertheless stands as a great achievement – a rich and wonderfully intoxicating record which surely already stands as one of the year’s finest releases.