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Low: Trust

Kranky, 2002

Rating: 4.2

 

 

Posted: September 30, 2002

By Laurence Station

Trust, the sixth studio album from the Duluth, Minnesota-based trio Low, continues the expansion of the band's once stridently minimalist tonal palette, building on the sonic experimentation begun in earnest with last year's stirring Things We Lost In The Fire. Known for a defiantly slowcore sound, where spacious notes and cavernous, near-hymnal harmonies resonate with equal if not more power than standard amped-up emotional rants, guitarist Alan Sparhawk, drummer Mimi Parker and bassist Zak Sally have remained true to the blueprint that made their name. Trust, however, shows off a greater willingness to add variety to the design, and it's primarily for this reason that ranks it alongside Things We Lost In The Fire as among the band's finest achievements.

Those seeking the signature Low sound will find several of the best efforts (and most egregious offenders) on Trust. The ethereal, affecting "(That's How You Sing) Amazing Grace," with the forlorn line "Sometimes there's nothing left to save," lays the foundation for a theme of loss and redemption from an earlier transgression that runs throughout the album. "In the Drugs," meanwhile, with its resigned aura of quiet desperation, counterbalances the mood of "Amazing Grace" in its pointed observation that "We always get what we deserve." Indeed, Trust finds Low as emotionally direct, lyrically, as it's ever been: On "La La La Song," Sparhawk sings "Fear of god and a disappointing father/holds the hand around your neck," while the wrenching "Diamond" paints a vivid portrait of youthful adversity with such lyrics as "Got a weak pair of lungs/from a childhood disease."

If Trust finds Low refining its lyrical slant, it takes a decidedly more experimental musical approach: "I am the Lamb," with guest vocals courtesy of America's Gerry Buckley, features a percussive wood block stomp that sounds like the last march of a doomed man on his way to the gallows. "Tonight" places Mimi Parker's spiritually impassioned vocals over a wholly unexpected, yet no less effective quasi electronic mix, while the rocking "Canada" (experimental only in the sense that Low has never done anything quite so musically straightforward) offers a basic three-chord guitar strum with complimentary crashing cymbals and throbbing bass. In contrast, the downside of Low's more traditional, glacial pace rears its ugly head on the deliberate (to a fault), near eight-minute "John Prine," which comes off as more parody of the entire slowcore movement than a legitimate song.

The album's mixing, handled by Tchad Blake (Latin Playboys, Lisa Germano, Pearl Jam), is a major reason for its success: Blake seamlessly blends familiar Low numbers with the edgier fare, from the sequencing to the studio embellishments. Tying the idea of trust in oneself, in one's partner, and in one's music tightly together results in an emotionally satisfying, musically accomplished work.

While Trust might alienate a few hardcore slowcore fans, the smarter bet is that it should expand the band's fan base. Not that Low has ever worried about selling out arenas (nor would the group's intimate sound be appropriate for such venues), but having more people exposed to its unique, artful noise can only help affirm one's faith in the power and beauty of such shamelessly honest music.

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