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Sit & Spin

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Low
The Great Destroyer
Sub Pop
From the reaction in some quarters, you'd think Low, the Duluth, MN, band that put the slow in slowcore, slowly, now rocks like Bleach-era Nirvana. Well, not quite. Yes, on The Great Destroyer, their first full-length for former Grunge-peddlers Sub Pop (and seventh overall), the trio has cranked up the pace and the amplifiers, mothballed the cello for an e-bow, and filled all those challenging empty spaces on previous releases with mammoth chords and even (gasp!) guitar solos. No, not quite Nirvana, but it does add up to a new Low form of rock.

Founded in 1993 and comprised of guitarist/vocalist Alan Sparhawk, percussionist/vocalist Mimi Parker and bassist Zak Sally, Low were natural leaders of slowcore, since nobody did it as well — or as slowly. Their haunting melodies were stop-time dirges, funereal and ethereal at once, and as sparse and lonely as their native landscape in the dead of a dark winter.

But Low did mix in the occasional curveball of dissonant rock or sugary pop, conservatively sprinkling them throughout the catalog. Which brings us to The Great Destroyer, where all of Low's interests share the stage equally, often within a song.

"When I Go Deaf," for instance, is a meditation on the ironic plusses a loss of hearing might provide a struggling musician, and it begins in quintessential Low fashion, Sparhawk and Parker harmonizing over a hushed acoustic. Two-thirds of the way through, however, just as the listener is resigned to hearing another pretty refrain or two, a sonic guitar barrage rends the song and our expectations, the duo's voices shouting out the chorus over the thunderous racket. It may be the strongest moment on the record, and not only for the succinct career contrast it provides. Several cuts unfold in similar fashion ("Broadway {So Many People}," "Pissing"), while others skip the niceties and go straight for the rock jugular ("Everybody's Song," "California"). The former type seems more effective, perhaps because it's still hard to fathom the metamorphosis. But who can blame them? Everyone likes to drive in the fast lane once and a while.

Track to Burn: "Broadway (So Many People)"

Rating: 1/2

-John Schacht

Magnolia Electric Co.
Trials & Errors
Secretly Canadian
For years, Jason Molina made a name for himself as a self-flagellating miserabilist with a mesmerizing solo show and songs so mercilessly bleak he made other introspective singer/songwriters seem giddy in comparison.

But after 2003's Magnolia Electric Co., Molina forsook the solo route (and his previous band name, Songs: Ohia) to concentrate on full-band performances, which, in turn, received acclaim for their Crazy Horse-like sound and intensity. And if the "Down By the River" length cuts ("North Star," "The Big Beast") on Magnolia's new live release, Trials & Errors, don't suggest influences, then maybe the refrain from Young's "Out On the Weekend" during "Almost Was Good Enough" will.

Recorded in Brussels in 2003, Molina and band — Pete Schreiner (drums), Mike Kapinus (bass, trumpet) and Jason Groth (guitar) — tear through two songs from Songs: Ohia's Didn't It Rain, one from Magnolia Electric Co., three songs scheduled for a new studio full-length this Spring, and four songs that will appear here only.

The overall vibe, of course, remains tortured and incandescent; Molina's just decided that sharing the burden with a band is the best means of catharsis.

Track to Burn: "Almost Was Good Enough"

Rating: 1/2

-John Schacht

Joy Zipper
American Whip
Dangerbird
Joy Zipper have been tagged with the Sunny Psychedelia tag ever since the release of their self-titled debut four years ago. And why not? Their last record had a mother and daughter frolicking on a sunny beach. For American Whip, they turn the camera towards the sky to catch a (lowercase, mind you) flock of seagulls.

Sure, there are a lot of self-conscious SMiLEs on American Whip. But what band doesn't borrow from their favorites? The question is, and always will be, does the work hold up on its own?

To which I must answer with a firm, unequivocal...sometimes. "Christmas Song" is catchy, and harmless enough ("I love you more than a thousand Christmases/I want you more than any gift I can think of"). "Baby You Should Know" is a slow-burn/Stereolab-style floater, and the 24-second "Drugs" is tailor-made for a mix CD. However, most of the rest of the tracks just sort of sit there looking pretty.

Pretty Schmitty. More often than not, I kept coming back to the words of dear old Johnny Rotten, that other bastion of sunny disposition and purveyor of pop hooks: "you're so pretty/you're so pretty...va-CANT!"

Track to Burn: "Drugs"

Rating:

-Timothy C. Davis

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