Low has made a career out of musical minimalism, putting themselves at the forefront of the indie subgenre known as slowcore. Silly genre names aside, Low has earned their stripes, building a solid career out of the instrumental and lyrical interplay between the husband and wife team of Mimi Parker and Alan Sparkhawk. Heck, the band was even covered not once, but twice by Robert Plant. So, the news that Wilco’s own Jeff Tweedy would be manning the boards for Low’s tenth album, The Invisible Way was somewhat anticlimactic. This, after all, is a musician’s band – the kind of hard working group that may not hit the top of the charts, but will bring their all with every album they release.
The Invisible Way finds Low hitting a comfortable groove with eleven songs that take full advantage of the band’s surprisingly muscular chops. Few bands do more with less, and having Tweedy as producer works so well, it’s a wonder the two forces haven’t combined before. Tweedy takes full advantage of the band’s power, accentuating the beauty of Sparhawk’s guitar, Parker’s drums and Steve Garrington’s bass, while equally giving time to those quiet spaces between drum beats and guitar strums.
The album starts with “Plastic Cup,” a soft tale that runs from a kid getting high with his friends to archaeologists 1,000 years into the future thinking he was a king because they found his plastic drug test cup in a dig. It’s an odd opener, filled with metaphors and sly humor. When the tune ends on Sparkhawk saying, “write your own damn song and move on” it feels like a kiss off to those of us looking for meaning in the words of songwriters. It’s an abrupt ending, but it quickly leads into “Amethyst” which features beautiful backing vocals by Parker.
Parker sings on five tunes on The Invisible Way, stealing the spotlight from her husband on the album highlight, “So Blue.” With its thundering piano, Parker starts by singing quietly, but builds as the tune reaches its crescendo. It’s a glorious gem, with Tweedy getting the most out of the band by playing to their strength. No, Low, never truly rocks, but the tension and strength in “So Blue” would be tough to replicate even by the hardest of metal bands. Later in the record, Parker has another opportunity to shine with the glorious “Just Make It Stop,” another tune that proves you don’t need to rage to give off the impression of anger or frustration.
Sparkhawk also his moments on the record, adding to the muscular tone of the album. “Clarence White” shuffles and stomps like an old blues classic, while “Mother” is a quite number that lets Sparhawk and his wife take full advantage of their beautiful harmonies. Then there’s “On My Own,” a great little number that conspicuously moves along like a Wilco outtake. Surprisingly, it’s the only song on the record that feels overtly influenced by Tweedy.
It’s to Tweedy’s credit that he was able to harness Low’s sound without influencing the band too much. Too often, when a producer who’s also a frontman for a popular band comes along, that artist’s sound tends to overwhelm the production. That’s not the case here, resulting in a solid record that finds Low comfortable with their strengths. It may not be their best record, but it’s a fine listen that only grows with each play.