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Low, ‘The Invisible Way’ – Album Review

Low The Invisible Way Cover
Sub Pop

Unless you’re George Clooney, you probably don’t equate the passing of time with sexiness. And unlike fine wine, humans don’t tend to slowly improve with age. We may get wiser, but we also forget more, with our experience never really compensating for the rate our body fails us.

This year, Low celebrate their 20th anniversary, and while they’re not exactly Clooney or chianti, they have proven to be something not too far off: consistent. Reliability is a flaw in bands that thrive on reproduction and constantly add redundant records to their catalogs. But for Low, the tortoise approach has afforded them a career clear of the spotlight, allowing them to fully develop their trademark sound. ‘The Invisible Way,’ their latest, adds another fulfilling chapter to their legacy.

That isn’t to say ‘The Invisible Way’ is more of the same, but its subtle shifts are, well, pretty subtle. Mimi Parker is singing lead more than ever. A couple tracks hit mid-tempo, which, for a band that inspired the name of the sub-genre “slowcore,” is huge. And with Jeff Tweedy producing the band for the first time, the instruments sound a bit more familiar, and the vocals strike with a bit more immediacy.

But really, Low continue to work with the very particular set of tools they love. The music announces itself as sad by the conclusion of the album’s first line, when Alan Sparhawk sings the word “high” in a way that doesn’t sound intoxicating or uplifting in any way. But that song, ‘Plastic Cup,’ is beautiful in its melancholy. Without that aspect — paired with the prettiness of Sparhawk and Parker’s melodies and voices — Low’s music might not seem worth the trouble.

Echoes of Tweedy’s work with Mavis Staples — a major reason Low sought to work with him — can be heard on Parker’s soulful ‘Holy Ghost,’ as well as on ‘Four Score’ and ‘To Our News.’ For the first time in the band’s history, Parker, the secondary vocalist, sounds like one of the all-time greats, and that focus on strong female singing might become a Tweedy trademark as he produces more groups.

Still, besides the left turn of ‘Just Make It Stop’ — a song so self-conflicted that its unpredictability almost works — ‘The Invisible Way’ is Low further honing their craft, creating music the only way they know how, or at least want to know how. At this point, Low has little to prove, and if the next 20 years find them continuing to do this every so often, their reputation as one of the unheralded greats will, well, get a little more heralding.

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