If someone five years ago would have told me that Low would release an album on Sub Pop Records, I might have laughed in their face. Given where both Sub Pop and Low were 5 years ago, the marriage between the two might have seemed a bit strange, but given the trajectory of both in the past couple years, it doesn't seem strange at all at this juncture. As a label, Sub Pop has increasingly shown a willingness to branch out and expand over the past couple years, showing a resurgence that's been pretty fun to watch considering at one point I sort of wrote them off. On the other hand, Low has also slowly built up their sound in intensity, and The Great Destroyer is the next step in a direction that they've touched at for albums now.
Upon first listen, this album may actually come as sort of a shock to long-time listeners of Low. They're definitely louder than they've ever been, and they're definitely playing faster than they've ever been, rolling out several tracks that move with a pop sensibility that they've hinted at with great success in the past (see "Dinosaur Act" from Things We Lost In The Fire). Although it's a bit more on the dirging side of things, the album opener of "Monkey" is a pretty bold stroke to start the album with. As pounding drums and juicy organ basslines squeal, the track builds with an almost tribal intensity as Mimi Parker and Alan Sparhawk layer their vocals with one of their reliable male/female harmonies that seem to cut through it all.
"California" follows and is possibly more upbeat than anything they've ever done before. Sparhawk takes the lead vocal duties before being joined by Parker for the almost sunny chorus. At the very least, it should move briskly up the college radio charts. Sprinkled around the album are tracks that sound more like the group of old, including the lovely and nearly-syruply backed "Cue The Strings" (in which the production of Dave Fridmann really makes itself known) and the acoustic-guitar and vocals of Sparhawk on the excellent "Death Of A Salesman."
With the new directions in sound, there are a couple places where the group stumbles just a bit. "Just Stand Back" is so by-the-numbers and safe sounding that it barely registers while "Pissing" is the exact opposite, dragging slowly to a last-minute explosion that feels a forced. In other places, though, the group shines as always. The guitar solo at the beginning of "On The Edge Of" is one of the most expressive things Sparhawk has ever done, while "Step" mixes a huge variety of sounds and voices (including Parker and Sparhawks daughter) into an oddly hummable track. One other beef I have with the album is that it's been so heavily compressed in mastering that the disc gets a bit muddy in places where it should really have been punching through crispness. Of course, that (overdoing the loudness in mastering) is part of a larger overall problem with lots of new recordings, but to hear it on a Low record bugged me even more than it would have with something else. As a whole, The Great Destroyer is another solid release from a group who's amazingly been going strong for over a decade now.