No one has ever listened to Low expecting boundless good cheer, but the dour beauty of their best work -- Secret Name, Things We Lost in the Fire, and Trust -- made something deeply rewarding out of the fragile sorrow of their spare melodies and Alan Sparhawk and Mimi Parker's voices. However, the bigger and more sonically diverse sound of Low's two albums with producer Dave Fridmann, The Great Destroyer and Drums and Guns, tended to reinforce the increasingly dark and chaotic tone of the group's songwriting, and what once seemed quietly sad now seemed more than a bit troubling. So it's both surprising and reassuring that Low's ninth studio album, C'mon, is also the most hopeful music they've released in quite some time. With the lovely tranquility of the opening tune, "Try to Sleep," and the easy charm of "You See Everything" (which sounds like some lost gem of mid-‘70s soft rock), C'mon is as languid as ever for Low while at the same time suggesting these musicians are looking for some light at the end of the tunnel. C'mon was co-produced and mixed by Matt Beckley, who has previously worked with Katy Perry, Avril Lavigne, and Vanessa Hudgens; he's an odd choice to work with Low, but thankfully, he's not afraid to let the album's darker and more contemplative songs sound as dramatic as they should, while adding just the right touch of polish on "Especially Me" and "Something's Turning Over," where the pop undercurrents that often run beneath Sparhawk and Parker's songs bob to the surface. (Beckley also does fine work with Sparhawk and Parker's vocals, which are in splendid form here.) C'mon, like Low's albums with Fridmann, stands apart from the stark minimalism of this band's earlier music, with a number of additional musicians contributing to the sessions (including Wilco guitarist Nels Cline and violinist Caitlin Moe), but this material more successfully adds dynamics and color to Low's melodies while retaining the power of their elemental approach. The dark clouds that have haunted Low are still clearly visible on "Witches" and "$20," but the slow, noisy build to the climax of "Nothing But Heart" is a testament to the very real heart and soul behind their music, and C'mon, while well short of sunny, is an album devoted to the search for answers amidst the darkness, and it's a powerful, deeply moving work from a truly singular band.
© Mark Deming /TiVo