Low, Secret Name [Tugboat]
Rating: 8 / 10
They once seemed like the end of a line. No-one could be quieter, slower, or more total an inversion of rock'n'roll common practice than Duluth, Minnesota's Low. In the early '90s, treading gently in the wake of Galaxie 500, Slint and Codeine, they sounded like sadness refined to its purest musical state.
An unlikely band, you might think, to spawn imitators, though today a cursory listen to the engrossing stillness of Mogwai's 'Come On Die Young' or a clutch of new British bands like Tram and Savoy Grand soon proves otherwise. It's a good time, then, for Low to return with their fifth and best album.
True to form, the 12 songs here move with the usual unflappable stealth. But this time it's the warmth of Alan Sparhawk and Mimi Parker's intertwined, hushed vocals at the fore, rather than the fuzzy desolation that characterised '97's 'Songs For The Dead Pilot'. Even the presence of virtuoso brutalist Steve Albini behind the desk can't rough up the deep sweetness of 'Starfire' and 'Immune'.
There's a sense here that nothing is superfluous, that every last note so deliberately picked out has a profound purpose to its existence. For the kind of band that's typically seen as desperately introverted, you can't help feeling Low want what they do to connect, to resonate, to matter, with a very specific gravity. And, with 'Secret Name', they've succeeded brilliantly.