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Overlooked Alternatives: Andrew Bird, Low

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Like the Batman, Overlooked Alternatives scans the skies for the beacon of need – new music that might otherwise go unnoticed by someone out there. Cast your eyes heavenward: it's a bird, it's a- oh, wait, I'm getting my superheroes mixed up. Regardless, it is a bird – Andrew – and then there's those mopy Mormons from Duluth, Low.

Andrew Bird – Armchair Apocrypha: It's going to be hard for Bird to top his previous album, Andrew Bird And The Mysterious Production Of Eggs, a gorgeous, moody stunner. Equally balanced between upbeat rock numbers and quieter strings-backed pieces, Eggs had something for everyone, with smart, subtly-humorous lyrics strewn throughout to keep listeners coming back and making it a highlight of the year. With Armchair Apocrypha, it seems as if he hasn't even attempted to replicated what worked right on Eggs and luckily this works in everyone's favor. A rather more muscular affair (and we're speaking on relative terms here, remember,) Apocrypha relies more heavily on guitars than strings than anything Bird has produced before. But his signature sense of melody and humor is ever-present, tying everything together in an ear-pleasing bundle that is sure to land this one right back in the top end of the best-of lists later this year.

Low – Drums And Guns: Who knew Low would crank things up like they did with The Great Destroyer, their Sub-Pop debut? Were they holding back all those years, or did the label urge them to do something different? Whatever it was, it worked against every notion fans had when word spread of what was on the horizon. But the bigger question was, what would happen on the next album? Now we know: drum machines! It's not that simple, of course, and of course the results are much more pleasing than that makes it sound. And, actually, what we get is more raw and visceral than Destroyer, in some aspects. While Mimi Parker may not seem to be manning her snare drum as much, it's a real treat to actually hear some bass drum in Low's sound, even if it's electronic in origin. But this is a dark, dark album, so perhaps letting the Flaming Lips' favorite producer David Fridmann produce again was a good idea – he has a lot of tricks up his sleeve to keep things from getting too maudlin because, like with the Lips, you just want to listen to hear what's coming next. And, again, that question comes up – what could possibly be next for Low?

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