Low - The Invisible Way

The Low we encounter here appears to have undergone an inversion; it is no longer Sparhawk’s mildly irascible voice which dominates.

Label: Sub Pop

Rating: 8

There’s an elegant psychodrama at the heart of Low’s majestic output. Since 1994, Alan Sparhawk and Mimi Parker have projected their sparse ruminations on dysfunction and the apocalypse through the prism of ravenous and often rapturous folk songs. The majestic union of the couple’s voices in harmony elevated their dirges into the realm of the sacrosanct, a trajectory that has only in recent years been diverted to harsher or plusher domains (2005’s ‘The Great Destroyer’ and 2011’s ‘C’mon’ respectively).

But the Low we encounter on ‘The Invisible Way’ appears to have undergone an inversion; it is no longer Sparhawk’s mildly irascible voice which dominates. Instead, Parker’s vocals have taken a noticeably more prominent role, often duetting with herself rather than her husband. Whether this was a suggestion of producer Jeff Tweedy is open to debate, yet songs like ‘Four Score’ and ‘Holy Ghost’- where Parker takes the lead – are buoyed by unashamedly gospel-inflected chorales. And it works, wonderfully. The latter track pleas ignorance in the face of turning ‘passion into transcendence’ yet manages to do just that in the course of three minutes.

This gentle pace of the album is evident throughout bar Sparhawk’s ‘Clarence White’ which not only references the erstwhile Byrds singer but also manages to shoehorn Charlton Heston, handclaps and a false ending into a song which perhaps best resembles the Wilco influence; ‘Just Make It Stop’, sung by Parker times two or maybe even three, sees her pleas for strength amid doubt reach their breaking point. Of course, it’s these conflicts which propel Low - not just their albums but it appears to infiltrate every part of their being, physical, existential and musical. By the end, Parker is singing of how “the love we all need…we adored it and abused it ‘til it brought us to our knees” with a clarity, tone and direction which makes the invisible way seem frighteningly real, at once remote yet all too familiar.