I'm a pretty big Neil Young fan (especially the frustratingly unreleased on CD Time Fades Away), and more importantly my dad is a huge one. No-one in our family or friends is named Neil, but if you say that word in my dad's house we know who you're talking about. And yet for a long time after I started listening to Low I didn't get the Neil Young comparisons I'd read.
That ended roughly three seconds into "On the Edge Of," from 2005's underlauded The Great Destroyer. "On the Edge Of" is mostly interesting to the devotee for the way it manages to marry the crunching rock switchback of the opening section to the faintly liturgical titular refrain, Alan and Mimi blending their voices to the customary, wonderful effect. But that opening guitar work! The drums are unmistakably Mimi, but for ten seconds or so I thought I'd stumbled onto a slow-motion section from Neil's fantastic Weld live album. The way the guitar will stop lashing and start grumbling just as Mimi powers her way through a particularly powerful triple-thwack of her brushed(?) snare is an especially wonderful moment. A lot of music fans only know Low by reputation, or a few tracks like "Over the Ocean" or their verson of "The Little Drummer Boy," and while "On the Edge Of" contains elements of that sound it also expands the band's reach significantly from there.
But it's not where I'd start if I was new to the band. I didn't even notice it that much the first few times I heard the album, there being more dramatic offerings on hand. I'm kind of figuring most people checking out this blog are Low fans, but I'm also hoping some aren't, so I feel compelled to point out that although Low have had a reputation as makers of painfully hushed, crystalline and pretty music for years they are actually far darker and weirder, and their various dalliances with noise have always been highlights in their catalog. Well, The Great Destroyer is where they decamped to Sub Pop, grabbed the rather maximalist Dave Fridmann (part of Mercury Rev when they made their great albums, never forget) and made a rock album. It's a fantastic success by my estimation, not least because they seem to have gained a knack for making taut, complete shorter songs (I'm a big fan of brevity), something that's paid off in spades on this year's Drums and Guns.
Of course, in addition to breaking open the band's music in more dramatic fashion than before, The Great Destroyer also marks what looks an awful lot like a crisis of faith for Alan Sparhawk, at least from the outside. It certainly coincided with some mental anguish and difficulty, and the lyrics here are typical of the period; cryptic and haunted, with a healthy dose of resentment for the one whose "long filthy fingers keep jamming words down my throat" - it could be anyone from God to Alan himself.