a heart that won’t burst

Champions of the slow and deliberate, Duluth, Minnesota’s Low are back with their ninth studio album, C’mon. A fairly straightforward effort, Low employs dreamy buildups grounded in country twang. Opening track “Try to Sleep” has the sweet gauziness of a dream. Mimi Parker’s vocals float in an ethereal unconsciousness, tethered to waking life by husband Alan Sparhawk’s earthy wakefulness. Parker takes the lead on “You See Everything”, a supremely calming track despite the undercurrent of naivety and false security. Things take a bit of a dive at the end of the album, but “Nothing But Heart” is so good that it almost wipes one’s memory of the acme-less songs that precede it.

click to see more photos from the show

“Nothing But Heart” was a high point of Low’s set at the Majestic Theater in Madison, WI on April 20, 2011 as well. A bulk of the song is Sparhawk repeating the phrase “I’m nothing but heart” over and over, but instead of being monotonous the tune adds layer after layer with each invocation. When the song finally breaks, there’s a sudden awareness of lushness as Sparhawk soldiers on as Parker skims the top with a lovely counter-melody. Low’s set was primarily cuts from C’mon with a sprinkling of favorites to mix it up – “Breaker” to start and “When I Go Deaf” to end. Regardless of what era they were culling from, the most remarkable thing was almost always in the vocal interplay between Sparhawk and Parker. While their physical interaction was nearly non-existent – Parker stood several feet behind and to the side of her husband, and eye contact consisted of a single fleeting glance at best – their vocals had an intimacy that most can’t achieve.

click to see more photos from the show

C’mon dropped 04.12.11.
Click to download “Try to Sleep” and “Especially Me“.

Breaker, Try to Sleep, You See Everything, Monkey, Silver Rider, Witches, Especially Me, Done, Sunflower, $20, Majesty/Magic, Nightingale, Nothing But Heart, Something’s Taking Over
ENCORE ?, Murderer, When I Go Deaf

the graft didn’t take

Duluth, Minnesota, home to Retribution Gospel Choir, is a cold, gray place. The natural expectation would be for art to reflect flat cold of the region, but RGC somehow channels the static into something beautiful and pulsating with life on 2.

The album carries a bass heartbeat throughout, ticking away the 34-minute sophomore release. Everything on the album sounds familiar, but with a few exceptions it’s hard to pinpoint any one influence, leading to something original. Counterintuitive, but trust me on this one. Fat guitars with gnarly solos, skittering, skipping cymbals that crash into expansive drum rolls, vinyl crackles and radio static populate 2, giving it the feeling of being tuned in from another time and place.

The front end of 2 is a little more in the straightforward, bar band-friendly vein, and offers up the best candidates for singles and new listeners, particularly “Hide It Away“. That’s not to say the rest of the album is lacking; the sounds and concepts build on each other, creating a thicker, denser listen as you go along, releasing in the last song with the band’s cry for a blessing, for RGC “put our hearts in the promised land / we buried ourselves in the arms of our enemies / so the last thing I need is a lover”.

2 drops 01/26/10.
Download “Hide It Away” here.

m|h’s short and sweet guide to fmf09

Are you in Madison, WI this weekend? Then get yourself to Forward Music Fest. Buy tickets here, print out the schedule, and then check out a few of these performances (our top recommendations are linked to music, starred are the acts we’ve seen live before):


Blake Thomas*
Richard Buckner

Dan Wilson
Daniel and the Lion
El Valiente*
Archie Powell & The Exports
Daredevil Christopher Wright*
Margot & The Nuclear So and So’s*

Crane Your Swan Neck*
Pale Young Gentlemen*
Maps & Atlases*
Andrew Bird*

If you’re only buying a single show ticket, and we had to pick just one thing to see, we’d say Cougar. They don’t play the midwest very often, and their shows have always delivered. They’re one of our favorite live acts, hands down.

To see our coverage of the inaugural FMF, check out our guide and review.