Listen: The Invisible Way
Low (Sub Pop Records, 2013)
The release of a new Low album often feels like an unexpected gift. Not that all of their albums are unqualified masterpieces, but each of them contains a few gems that remind you of the evocative and poetic power of good songwriting.
Low’s sparse, patient, and meditative songs have often been at odds with much of the hyperactive and sometimes superficial music of the day. At the band’s heart are the beautiful and often sublime harmonies of singers, musicians, and spouses Alan Sparhawk and Mimi Parker.
The Invisible Way aptly displays the band’s ability to surprise with simplicity. From the opening notes of “Plastic Cup” through the rest of the album’s 11 tracks they explore a delicate interplay of acoustic guitar, bass, piano, and drums. Slow to mid tempo drumbeats punctuate big, unadorned open chords amidst lovely harmonies.
The spectacular sound, captured by the well-known musician and producer Jeff Tweedy (Wilco), allows for a more intimate experience of the music and voices. This is felt most keenly in the song “Mother.” In this breathtaking ballad, Sparhawk’s thoughtful lyrics stretch from tender moments of being held in his mother’s arms as a child to the end of time, “when every child and mother will return . . . forever.” The solemn tone struck between sadness and hope is perfect.
On previous albums Low has explored the ambiguities and challenges of religion in contemporary life. Some of these themes reemerge here in songs like “Clarence White” and “To Our Knees.” Low adds perhaps one of its most beautiful religious expressions to date in the blues-tinged “Holy Ghost.” With her soulful voice Parker attempts to express the complicated place of the Holy Ghost in her life. Rarely does one hear lyrics of such startling yet uplifting honesty. Her expression of fulfillment and struggle is a gift to us all.
This article appeared in the April 2013 issue of U.S. Catholic (Vol. 78, No. 4, page 42).