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.

married to the weekend

Motion City Soundtrack has never done me wrong, and their latest release, My Dinosaur Life, is no exception. I got to know MCS as a live band, benefiting from going to college just a few hours from their home base of Minneapolis, MN. In the span of a couple years I saw them more times than I have fingers, booking them several times myself. The thing that always struck me when working with them was their clear joy for making music and performing, a feeling that comes through on My Dinosaur Life.

MCS gave itself a shot in the arm on MDL, ramping up considerably from the stripped-down Acoustic EP.  Though their songwriting has expanded and matured, My Dinosaur Life is closer to their debut release than anything else in their catalog. The songs are big and polished, but not bombastic or over-produced. The excellent track “Disappear” is an excellent example, encompassing the raw emotion of I Am the Movie‘s best songs with singer Justin Pierre’s delivery a pointing, accusatory finger in your face.

Don’t fret if MCS’s pared-down efforts are more your style; the album offers a mid-list breather with acoustics and hand-claps, and it lets off emotional steam with the wink-and-nod sing-along “@!#?@!” – a bouncy garage jaunt that politely invites interested parties to eff themselves. Don’t worry – the quintet hasn’t gotten bitter, they’ve just learned to put a spin on their smiles.

My Dinosaur Life drops 01/19/10.
Visit Motion City Soundtrack’s site for more info.