Like Stereolab, Belle And Sebastian, and other bands that have built a fan base by exploring minute variations on a singular sound, Minnesota slowcore stalwart Low has persistently had to contemplate what progress means. When the band stays the course, it gets knocked for making albums that are essentially indistinguishable. When it attempts significant change, the old guard complains that something vital has been sapped. Low's latest, The Great Destroyer, has been touted as a "new Low," with producer Dave Fridmann helping unleash the rock 'n' roll aggression that's always rumbled beneath the surface of the band's hushed, spare presentation. But Low has thrown a few curves before, most notably with 2001's Things We Lost In The Fire, which also offered a lusher and more forceful Low. But where that album tried to push the group forward by adding orchestration, The Great Destroyer holds to its original sonic principles of deep echo and empty spaces. Low just sounds louder and fuller.
It's also fairly eclectic, at least on the surface. The fuzzy pop of "California" and "Just Stand Back" don't seem to have much in common with the dissonant bang of "Everybody's Song" or the airy dreamscape of "Silver Rider." Yet all four share a laconic tone and an emphasis on twang that would make Neil Young proud, and in making like a post-rock Crazy Horse, Low has found new ways to eke dynamic moments out of lingering notes: The chorus and coda of "On The Edge Of" is a deliberate retreat to the extreme minimalism of Low's seminal debut I Could Live In Hope, but since it comes amid a four-minute storm of reverb, the step backward sounds poignant. The Great Destroyer even continues the tradition of long, droney Low songs with the seven-minute "Broadway (So Many People)," a city sketch that alternates loud vamping and eerie hush in a way that suggests Low might be ready to take the baton from the recently dissolved Luna. That would be an okay career move, if Low wasn't already excelling at being Low.