The Invisible Way
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
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This year marks Low’s 20th anniversary as a band, and in that time, the Duluth, Minnesota trio has tread a lot of ground without giving up any of their core aesthetic principles. The glacially creeping sadness of I Could Live In Hope gave way to the stark heaviness of Things We Lost In the Fire, and the noisier, dense textures of The Great Destroyer gave way to the rustic simplicity of C’mon. Yet each of these albums, while somewhat different in tone and in texture, could have only come from a band as graceful and as masterful with delicate beauty as Low is.
Low’s eleventh album, the Jeff Tweedy-produced The Invisible Way, provides a suitable commemorative cap on the group’s second decade by simply concentrating the band’s strengths — economy, patience, sublimely melodic songwriting — into a relatively simple and straightforward package. There’s no fuzz, nor overbearing reverb, nor cluttered ornamentation of any kind. Low, instead, offer a mostly acoustic collection of slow, softly hypnotic songs that, even after so many shifts and variations, sounds remarkably refreshing.
The Invisible Way finds core songwriters Alan Sparhawk and Mimi Parker characteristically trading off lead vocal duties, Sparhawk providing an earthier grounding to his tunes, while Parker’s angelic coo tends more toward the ethereal side. Yet their harmonies often serve as perfectly complemented counterparts. The two singers fill in the space left by the stark arrangement on chilling standout “Amethyst,” and in “Plastic Cup,” the rise in Parker’s voice at the end of each line is like the wraithlike shadow cast by Sparhawk’s deeper croon.
Sparhawk, Parker and bassist Steve Garrington play with a more muted palette on The Invisible Way, and as such, some of the songs take a few listens before their nuances and intricacies can fully be appreciated. But Low has always been at their strongest without flash, and here they’re truly in their element, whether taking on a gothic gospel variation in “Four Score,” a bluesy folk stomp on “Clarence White,” or upbeat indie pop on “Just Make It Stop.” The Invisible Way is Low’s essence distilled — potent, powerful and pure.