Hearing rumors of Low’s change in tempo and sound before the release of The Great Destroyer made me a tad nervous. I love Low’s music and, like most fans, I was hoping that it didn’t change them so much that they didn’t sound like Low anymore. Well, all of my fears have been allayed and I am happy to say that I am enamored with Destroyer. Alan, Mimi, and Travis have delivered what for them is an aggressive disc with solid, breathtaking songs. Of more interest is the fact that they have moved to the Subpop label and will be getting more circulation as far as distribution is concerned. This, coupled with some of their more accessible (and I don’t mean that in a negative way) songs, there may be a new nation of Low fans soon.
The Great Destroyer begins with a track titled “Monkey.” The tribal beat of this song wakes up the demons hiding under Low’s bed. It seems that the noise has finally broken through and some angst has come through. “Monkey” begins with a fuzzy hum and breaks out into a tribal beat with fuzzed out bass. The lyrics center around a lie that has ruptured a relationship and the struggles with that lie. Destroying the monkey is the key and repairing the relationship is what Alan and Mimi croon for. What is great about this sort of song on the album is that Low has lost nothing in the translation. In spite of the speed being picked up and the louder version of themselves, they still sound like Low. They are still patient in their vocal phrases and really do draw out the notes in the context of a poppier song. Honestly, I think that is an amazing feat.
“California,” their first single, is definitely the most accessible song on the disc. It is a straightforward indie-pop song that is full and beautiful. I don’t mean to rant about this, but I think it’s also amazing that they are able to sustain the sound they sustain using the same instrumentation they have always used. There is simply a 2-drum kit, bass, and a guitar with Mimi and Alan’s angelic vocals. Low is certainly master of their art. I think my favorite moment in the song is the bridge where Mimi and Alan sing aucapela. “California” melts into “Everybody’s Song,” which is rough in its texture and strident in its rhythm. It is powerful and full. The album really gets represents the theme of the album, that of destruction. The use of feedback on this track is awesome and happens perfectly and momentarily.
“Silver Rider” follows on the heals of the noise and returns the listener to the Low they have come to know and love. Slow, beautiful, patient. This song appeared first on the Murderer 10” that came out last year. As far as I can tell, this is a new, re-recorded version of the song and it actually is one of my favorite Low songs. It tells the epic tale of an unsung, unknown super hero called the Silver Rider. Also, the title of the album appears in this song. Perhaps Silver Rider is the hero who will symbolically stop all that destroys: time, lies, hatred, etc. A dream, yes, but a dream many have sung about throughout the centuries and Low brings their voice and perfection to this cry. “Just Stand Back” brings another song that reminds us that Low have progressed. It is a straightforward pop song, but it has tons of angst in it. Alan Sparhawk has always stated that punk was an attitude and that Low has always been a punk band in that sense of the word. Perhaps they have moved to the realization that, and I quote Wayne Everett, “pop is the new punk.”
“On the Edge Of” has much of that slow tempo Low with much of the new noise mixed in. This is probably more akin to “Sunflower” or “Dinosaur Act” in its feel. It is a solemn tune that spanks of someone on the brink. The song evokes both beauty and pain at the same time. “Cue the Stings” begins with stings and Alan’s solo vox. Mimi’s angelic voice joins in to croon a melancholy melody. Violin and cello float behind the vocals beautiful, painting a minimalist soundscape.
“Step” begins with violent acoustic guitar and rattled percussion with noisy bass. Alan’s voice is fuzzed out and a child accompanies him. Clapping joins in and a more poppy tone comes into the song. The guitars are fuzzed and, once again, a sense of foreboding fills the track. “When I go Deaf” begins with acoustic guitar and has an alt-country feel to it. Again, we see the destruction of hearing here. Alan cogitates on what will happen when he is old and goes deaf. The pressure not to write music and slow down life is a dream at the edge of Alan’s mind. Eventually the song explodes and become a lot fuller. Alan’s guitar work on this song is tremendous and his tone huge.
“Broadway (So Many People)” has a slow, pop feel to it. As far as I can tell, the song is about the contrast between what happens on Broadway and the perceived understanding of that place as a place of dreams. The final moments of the song are beautiful, with Mimi singing “Aha, aha, ahaaaaa” repeatedly. Her voice is hypnotic and beautiful. “Pissing” has an ominous tone to it. It starts with the throbbing of guitar and some sampled noises. The bass comes and beats out a threatening beat. The lyrics are foreboding and the march to the end of the song, well, frightening. As far as building a mood goes, this song is probably the one that best communicates one on the disc. Eventually, the horror of what is to come flows into loud guitars and feedback.
“Death of a Salesman” really brings the noise down to a quieter level. It is an acoustic song with Alan singing about writing songs and going to college. It actually tells a great story and really gives insight into Alan’s past. “Walk Into the Sea” closes out the album. It begins with muffled strumming and Mimi really hammering the drums. Time is the great destroyer in this song. It is loud, but patient and slow. The pop element really comes in the vocal melodies.
For those of you who were nervous about the “change” in Low, no longer be as such. Low’s move to make the “pop” come out of them is a brilliant success. If “pop is the new punk” then Low has proven it to be so. In spite of the apparent loudness, Low has kept its signature sound and still brings the quiet, patient music to the table. Long live Low!