Low made their bones creating nothing out of something. Back in indie rock’s 1990s heyday, when college radio still held a little cultural weight, they were make-out music for folks who couldn’t bother to leave the dorm. The Minnesota band’s spare, glacial, white-on-white sound could only come from a state where winters routinely dip to 30 below and emotional restraint is bred into the population. Low’s early records were the sound of no hands strumming, mumbles of hope and despair from two devout, married Mormons and a bassist who drew underground comix in his spare time. (I mean, how many subcultures does one band need?)
Well, goodbye to all that. (The mumbling, not the subcultures—though those might fade as well.) Maybe blame it on the wailing of a new baby, the couple’s second, or maybe it’s just from getting bored with standing around all the time, but The Great Destroyer is also the great thaw. Produced with comparatively thunderous verve by Dave “Are We Floyd Yet?” Fridmann—whose lush manipulations of the Flaming Lips made them the most overrated band in American rock—Destroyer simmers with life in all of its noisy, tuneful excess. Low’s always hung out with producers prone to heavy-handedness (Kramer’s wide-eyed mixes, Albini’s bone-dry thwack), but Fridmann adds more than detracts. He gives ’em grimy drums, guitar solos, soaring harmonies, and—hello—pop song structure. They also get out of town a little. “Broadway (So Many People)” marvels at the big city, and “California” thinks about heading out altogether. Like proper Midwesterners, they’re self-conscious about all of this (“It’s a hit, it’s got soul/Steal the show with your rock ‘n’ roll”) and stay wary of their newfound jiggyness (“I could turn on you so fast”). Instead of the frozen tundra’s quiet, they’re sounding like a snowstorm.