I have a theory when it comes to sad music, or angry music, or music that rides on other emotions we consider negative. When it’s done right, it can be cathartic, even therapeutic. The idea is when you are sad and you listen to some good sad music, it helps you feel better, or at least not as sad. It serves as a vent for your emotions.
Slowcore trio Low have spent more than a decade exploring and perfecting this kind of music as an art. Their latest, The Invisible Way, continues this trend, weaving slow tempos and minimal instrumentation with thoughtful, introspective lyricism to form a tapestry of beautiful melancholy.
What makes their music work so well is that Low apparently understands the value of space and air in music—room to breathe. It’s hard to describe, but on The Invisible Way they create these airy, desolate sonic landscapes where you almost notice what isn’t there more than what is, which makes each note played and sung ring with that much more resonance. Then, as the track list progresses, you find these ebb-and-flow moments, these times when the music builds and swells to an outpouring of emotion (like on “So Blue” and “Just Make It Stop”), and then recedes. Don’t ask me how it makes me feel better; it just does.
With Wilco’s Jeff Tweedy at the production helm, The Invisible Way wanders a bit from formula in a couple of ways, both of which I think actually serve to improve and refresh the band’s sound. First of all, the emphasis is more on acoustic instruments, with less electric guitar and more acoustic piano than we find on their earlier work like 2005’s The Great Destroyer. Secondly, Mimi Parker, the better half of usual-lead vocalist Alan Sparhawk, takes the lead spot in more of the album’s tracks, frequently doing layered harmonies with herself on tunes like “Just Make it Stop” and “Four Score,” and comforting us with gospel-tinged tracks “Holy Ghost” and “To Our Knees.” This, combined with the signature harmonies between Parker and Sparhawk throughout, actually make the vocals the strongest musical element on this record.
Granted, it helps to be in a particular frame of mind to listen to The Invisible Way. But this album stands among the band’s best, and I have a feeling that when you listen to this latest offering by Low—after awhile, you won’t be.