I'm getting just about as sick of "core" genre classifications as anyone. Hardcore, metalcore, emocore, slowcore. Wait, slowcore? That's what Minnesotan rock minimalist exports Low have come to be known as. Low have been making low key releases in the indie rock world since 1993. The Great Destroyer, their Sub Pop debut, however, is their first departure from the subtle, making something from nothing approach they've been accustomed to. This isn't a complete reconstruction, no, more of an evolution for the 3-piece. It's a really loud album at points, with crunching, almost crackling guitars, but also maintains much of its subtle charm and mood-driven vocals. Incorporating pop sensibility with its eerie moods, dissonant chords, and textured synths and electronics, Low has finally delivered the album that will define their career.
It's the minimalist approach that's garnered recognition for Low in the past, seemingly crafting a beautiful song from absolutely nothing. The album's opener, "Monkey," is one such song. Vocalists Alan Sparhawk and Mimi Parker induce a wonderfully hypnotic quality through the vocals, and the dull pounding of the bass and drums further delve into your subconscious. This is where Low is at their best, when something seemingly dull is transformed into a completely engaging affair. The following song, "California," is where the band's newfound pop sensibility shines through, making for a bouncy, airy story of a farmer who relocates to a warmer climate. It also provides some great imagery, not just through the lyrics but the music itself. No matter how cold and miserable your March nights are, you feel like you're on a hillside looking at the ocean. This is one of the things that makes the album succeed so well - contrast. Compare "California" with the decidedly more somber nature of tracks like "When I Go Deaf." The song starts out with the vocals of Sparhawk and Parker, over the lightest acoustic strumming, then in the second half the guitar and bass really kick in to high gear. This newfound sense of intensity is something you'd never find on a previous Low record, but the stark contrast between that and it's more low key moments accentuate the both all the better.
The epic 7-minute "Broadway" is one of this record's shining moments. The brooding, tension-building nature of this song is where Sparhawk's vocals come into full form. There's tinges both in the vocals and instrumentation, where you feel things are going to break out and explode, but it doesn't ever come to pass. The mood stays brooding, with the repeated inquiry "where is the laughter?" Truly, there's none to be found within the wrenching vocals. In keeping with the mood is "Pissing," where the lyrical content is hopeless at best; "I've waited, Michael blow your horn / Under every stone, Lovers sleep alone / Alone, alone, lovers sleep alone, alone alone." "Death Of A Salesmen" showcases some acoustic guitar, while telling the story of the discovery of a career. The vocals are at their most haunting here, at times coming off like Johnny Cash in the latter stages of his career.
"They said "Music's for fools / You should go back to school / The future is prisons and math / So I did what they said / Now my children are fed / 'Cause they pay me to do what I'm asked / I forgot all my songs / The words now are wrong / And I burned my guitar in a rage / But the fire came to rest / In your white velvet breast / So somehow I just know that it's safe."The Great Destroyer ends just as strongly as it began 50 minutes earlier with "Walk Into The Sea." The guitars and harmonies are absolutely flawless, and the drums pound with just the right level of intensity as the song fades out as quickly and effortlessly as it began. And in the end, that's what Low wanted, to put in their absolute best effort without for a second looking like they tried. Sure, much of the album is a departure from the minimalist approach they founded on some 12 years ago, but what's music without incorporation of new ideas. In another 12 years, if Low is done making records and they look back on their career, The Great Destroyer is that masterpiece that will have defined them.