rust is a funny thing, really. And an important one; we base much of our lives around it. I trust that when I set my alarm to wake me on time in the morning, it will. I trust that when I drive my car around, people will follow the street signs, so as not to kill me. Furthermore, I trust that a band whose catalogue is consistently laden with quality material-- including last year’s fantastic Things We Lost In The Fire-- won’t let me down with their newest release. Yep, it’s funny that Low should delegate such a bold handle to this, their sixth and easily most forgettable album. With Trust, they join the likes of Built To Spill’s Ancient Melodies of the Future and Elliott Smith’s Figure 8 in the pantheon of faith-shattering albums. And even those records don’t reach the depths of mediocrity explored here.
I wouldn’t go so far as to say the band has completely lost everything that made them what they are-- they’ve just misplaced it. Earlier Low albums were exercises in the dynamics of desolation. With sparse, lilting vocals, minimal percussion, and an incredibly apt sense of melody, those records evoked the expansive, empty fields of their native Minnesota, yet offered the warmth and comfort of a wood-burning stove in a cozy, remote cabin. On Trust, however, these images and amenities are unceremoniously erased not only by the heinously inappropriate, glossed over production of Tchad Blake (Pearl Jam, Cibo Matto, Tom Waits), but by some of the most listless, unaffecting music the band has ever penned.
Where the Low of old stunned with glacial tempos, aching delivery, and endearing sonic minutiae, the newest incarnation bores with (easy listening) radio ready musicianship, needlessly long songs, and well, glacial tempos. The band has never really relied on jarring tension-release, but the music here doesn’t even bother to build up. So you see, I’m not dogging the band for finding a new approach and not being exactly what they used to. It’s that there’s nothing new to be found here, only things that are lost that I wish remained.
“(That’s How You Sing) Amazing Grace” opens the album with little fanfare and introduces the library of superfluous sound effects that Blake never fails to roll out (see his massacring of Phantom Planet’s otherwise promising The Guest). For an inordinate seven minutes, the song lilts and rolls into glorified nothingness. The hackneyed electronic undercurrents that open “Canada” sound like they were swiped straight from top 40 radio and entirely strip the band of their identity. At least they detract from the clumsily-strummed distorted guitar. During the “middle” of the album (roughly tracks 3-9), things quickly slow down like an impending (and unwelcome) haze, where a fetching melody or ornate harmony occasionally peak through. I honestly couldn’t really tell you when, though. Sorry.
“Tonight” is one of the album’s highlights, but still, I couldn’t help but feel that it cries out for a William Orbit remix. Hell, throughout the track’s four minutes, I was halfway waiting for a thudding, Swedish-born 909 track to take things over. A few more bright spots appear around the album’s final fourth, but there’s still little to note. “Little Argument With Myself,” with its moaning horns, striking crescendo, and subsequent comedown is the only time that you feel that you’re listening to the Low that you should be (and yet still find yourself imagining how much better it could have been under the intimate, laissez-faire direction of Steve Albini or Kramer, people who actually understand the concept of minimalism).
Elsewhere, “La La Song” leaves the band on their own with little more than acoustic accompaniment and handclaps, but comes off sounding more like a b-side than anything. “Snowstorm” finds Blake at his most insufferable. His hollow attempt at Spector-esque production falls flat on its face, perhaps knocked down by some of the powerful (not to mention laughable) sonic “wooshes” that mar the song.
The closing eleven minute salvo of “Point of Disgust” and “Steps And Ladders” only reiterates the disappointment of the preceding 64 minutes.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t say that Low will probably get what they set out for on this album. It’s sure to be their highest profile release yet, and will likely be lauded in the pages of Entertainment Weekly and Blender, whatever that’s worth. Nevertheless, the music presented here resonates with nothing more than the unfortunate din of compromise.
Reviewed by: Colin McElligatt
Reviewed on: 2003-09-01