The Invisible Way

Sub Pop, LP or CD

There’s mood music, and then there’s whatever

it is Low is currently doing. Now on its tenth

album, the Duluth, Minn., trio remains perhaps

the only band around about which its fans

could plausibly worry that the act’s songs

could disappear into nothingness. Not, of

course, that the collective would call it quits—

but simply that Low’s grace with mining the

quiet and perfecting the art of patience could

lead Low down a path where its songs are

barely a murmur.

©Photo by Zoran Orlic


Of course, there’s plenty of beauty to be had in

such precise restraint. Yet with Low, there’s often just

as much disquiet. “The truth can hide, sometimes right

behind the sorrow,” sing Alan Sparhawk and Mimi

Parker on “Waiting,” and then they go looking for it

“behind the smile.” Meanwhile, a melody is gradually

revealed a by a loving, whispering guitar, as if there’s

someone it doesn’t want to disturb.

Sparhawk and Parker’s overlaying vocals have

always conveyed unrest; they’re working in concert,

yes, but they harmonize blankly, singing in much the

same way two pallbearers walk in unison. What’s

different here is the way each instrument is intimately

isolated. Produced by Wilco’s Jeff Tweedy, The Invisible

Way doesn’t sound stark so much as simply forlorn.

For example, the few minor-key piano notes of “To

Our Knees” that give way to delicately plucked guitar

strings, the wood-board patter of “Mother,” or the

rhythmic, twilight brush strokes of “Amethyst.”

It’s not always comforting, but there is plenty of

room—and space in the songs—for reflection. “Time,

it pulls out your eyes,” Sparhawk sings on “Amethyst,”

as much of The Invisible Way seems to steadily march

toward one’s later years in life. When there is an electric

guitar, it’s striking to the point of horrifying, such as the

all-enveloping doom that leaves feedback skid marks

all over the song’s coda. “Happy birthday” is the message

repeated throughout the song’s final moments,

but the sentiment isn’t one of Hallmark variety.

Similarly, “Plastic Cup” starts as a mediation

on aging—a narration that goes from partying

with childhood friends to leaving urine samples for

doctors—and that’s just in the first verse of the first

song on the album. With an acoustic guitar built for a

hospice waiting room, the song follows the cup holding

the urine sample until it’s buried in a trash heap and

discovered centuries later by historians. How’s that for

a wake-up call?

Yet Low makes such helplessness sound glorious.

Parker takes the lead on “Just Make it Stop,” where

defeatism transitions into determination with each

passing harmony. It may not all end up OK, but Low

isn’t ready to surrender to the calm, either.

—Todd Martens

April 2013 53

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