The slow fade, the chiming and immersive backdrop, the delicate lullaby of the vocal – all combine to form the most startling opening to an album this year. Within a minute I was certain that I was going to adore this album and by the time it had finished the only thing I wanted was to hear it again. Few songs are so obviously classics on first listen that when one emerges, it’s like the first flutters of falling in love. ‘Try To Sleep’ is a bold choice as first track because it leaves a lot to live up to for the nine tracks which follow. Not that that seems to be a problem.
‘You See Everything’ is the first of Mimi Parker’s big numbers on this record, a glorious track with a grand sound and a hypnotic charm, taking the wash of luxury applied to the album’s opener and running with it. While ‘Witches’ is a fine example of how a different producer can eek out new things from old sounds. The bold, spacious and gnarled guitar lines which have graced so many of the band’s records are present, but set as part of a much bigger wall of sound, with driving percussion and the chiming gloss of the opening pair still operating underneath. Production duties are shared between the band and Matt Beckley, who has previously worked with Avril Lavigne, Leona Lewis and even the Backstreet Boys. Not that that is in anyway obvious, beyond the slight sheen given to the album’s more grandiose moments.
The constant use of the tag ‘slowcore’ does Low no favours, suggesting as it does that their music is melancholia bordering on the bleak whereas one of the most bare tracks on ‘C’mon’ is not overly gloom in its actual sound. ‘Done’, below lyrics telling us “if you see my love, tell her I’m done”, has an aching lap steel from Nels Cline which underpins it, emotive and rich. Sad songs don’t make sad people. That logic is imbecilic and lazy, just like happy songs don’t make for happy people. Think of the savings the NHS could make with a Girls Aloud album. A gentle ache is often euphoric in its execution.
Take Parker’s crowning glory, ‘Especially Me’, which opens with the sparkling line “Cry me a river, so I can float over to you”. A slow thud keeps time while an atmospheric wash of sound, with Alan Sparhawk very low in the mix, slowly gathers momentum behind her hymnal vocal. The stirring string break which captures the conflicted emotions at the heart of the song is so utterly enthralling that when, thirty seconds later, the song ends, you’re just left hanging. Only the very best music really manipulates your emotions and ‘C’mon’ can certainly do that.
The second half of the record opens with ‘$20’, which it’s probably fair to say has plenty in common with Low records of old with its minimal sound and meditative delivery. Nevertheless, the occasional jagged strums of electric guitar maintain a certain edge, in keeping with the sinister undercurrents of old, even if the album as a whole is far lighter affair than recent releases. This idea is fully explored on ‘Majesty/Magic’, which starts in a similar vein but then builds into a crescendo of drums and guitar, with a pulsing energy and the feel of the threat of a far off storm.
‘Nightingale’ has the same sloping, soulful guitar sound which emboldened the album’s opening tracks and the chorus is heavenly, swooping down in its closing line with a grace and elegance that is simple yet breath-taking. The song washes over you, like the early hours of hazy summer light, leaving you prone for the eight and a bit minutes of ‘Nothing But Heart’. This track, more than any other here, highlights the power of this band’s sonics. Having gone loud(ish) with ‘The Great Destroyer’ and electronic with ‘Drums And Guns’, this offering serves to remind us that Low are capable of manipulating a soundstage in a fashion few can replicate. Over its duration, as the additional instruments appear including a gorgeous guitar break, the song gradually gets louder, until Parker unexpectedly makes an appearance around the six minute mark. It’s a wondrous piece of music and something which feels like the perfect way to end such an accomplished album.
And yet, ‘Something’s Turning Over’, a strummed folky song with gorgeous harmonies and little more than three minutes on the clock, serves to leave things on a musically optimistic note, even if the lyrics suggest otherwise: “just because you never hear their voices, don’t mean they won’t kill you in your sleep.” That this is then followed with a ‘la la la’ coda to close suggests there’s more than a little wry smile behind this supposedly gloomy duo.
There have been some very impressive, massively emotional and beautifully produced albums released this year, but very few have combined all three of those elements. Within that already tiny list, there is only one album which I have already installed on my favourite records of all time list, which I have played at least once a week for most of this year and which I would buy every single one of you if I could afford to. It is ‘C’mon’ by Low and it is a bloody triumph.