splendid > reviews > 9/16/2002

Format Reviewed: CD

Soundclip: "(That's How You Sing) Amazing Grace"

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Trust is the feeling you get in your stomach when the roller-coaster goes into a 20-storey nose dive. Trust is a candle-lit church on Christmas eve. Trust is the first humbling moment when you realize that the world is very big and you are very small. Trust is the summer night sky, viewed from a grassy field in the middle of nowhere. Trust is a calendar of your entire life, with every christening and funeral marked in pink highlighter.

Mostly, Trust is pretty damn hard to write about. You see, the previous paragraph was not my attempt to gear up for a career in the greeting card/thought-provoking poster industry; I've listened to Trust perhaps twenty-five times, and each time I've been left with the feeling that I've had a mildly profound experience. However, when pressed to attribute the profundity to any particular song or lyric, I'm stumped. Trust is a moving, perhaps cathartic experience, but I couldn't tell you why (not empirically, anyway) if my life depended upon it.

Perhaps it comes down to this: more so than ever before, Low don't waste a single note of music -- Trust's early moments are more elegantly sparse than anything the trio has attempted before. Take opener "(That's How You Sing) Amazing Grace". Its unhurried, echoing rock drumbeat -- hallmark of mixdown engineer Tchad Blake, a potentially controversial collaborator whose presence mostly pays off -- literally forces the listener's mind to slow down to Low's pace. By the time Mimi and Alan's tentative-but-radiant chorus arrives, you might be ready for its glorious, drawn-out tantric sprawl -- but the restraint shown in its measured pace will madden rock fans used to quicker fixes. If that's you, you may prefer Trust's next big surprise: "Canada" is Low's timely reminder that they're a rock band. Everything is in place: the most insistent drumming Mimi can muster, an abrasively assertive guitar lead from Mr. Sparhawk, and the sort of throbbing bassline that we'd all forgotten Zak Sally could play. However, while Low have temporarily recast themselves as power-popsters, they haven't abandoned their aesthetic; the riffs are economical, the production straightforward. There are no complex fingerings or lengthy solos or excessive instrumental ornamentation -- they're just playing louder and faster.

"Diamond"'s expansive vocal harmonies and robust melody express Low's classic rock ancestry (think George Harrison) in a slower context, while "Tonight" and "I Am The Lamb" reassert the group's underlying spirituality. I'm not talking about the cloying, heavy-handed "religiosity" implied (albeit falsely) by a title like "I Am The Lamb"; when Low address issues of faith, they do it frankly and matter-of-factly, without "recruitment drive" gloss. Rather, I'm referring to the transcendent qualities of the music. "Tonight"'s incandescent harmonics are angelically simple and clean, while "Lamb"'s trudging percussion and agony-laden vocals are as exhausting as a forced march across Old Testament Egypt. Emotional connections are Trust's strong suit; between elegantly simple folk-pop tunes like "Snowstorm" and "La La La Song" (the latter performed, I believe, by Gerry Beckley of America, the "Horse With No Name" band, Trust's most unlikely guest star), mordant musings like live favorite "John Prine", and the expansively ethereal sentimentality of shoegaze-inflected closing epic "Shots and Ladders", Low revel in their ability to make you feel their music deep in your gut.

That's why, after a couple of trips through Trust, you might feel like I did -- uncertain whether you'd just had the best sex of your life, witnessed an astonishingly moving church service, or attended the funeral of a life-long friend. Or perhaps a combination of all three. It's certainly an experience best suited to "mature" listeners -- that is, those who won't find even "Canada"'s robust but economical riffs a little too slow and threadbare. As powerful as it can be, Low's music is not about power -- it's about simplicity and focus and quiet sincerity. It's about approaching composition as if every note, every chord, every drumbeat comes at a price -- and about squeezing every last penny's worth of value from each note. But with Trust, we're the ones who get the bargain.



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