“California” – Low

How much to keep sounding the same and how much to evolve and explore is a question that faces all bands that manage to stay together for more than a few years. Remain too much the same and risk staleness (“There’s a fine line between a groove and rut,” as Christine Lavin once sang); change too much and risk alienating fans who like how you sound already, thank you very much. And in the indie rock world, any change that smacks of “accessibility” is treated with the harshest of scorn, for reasons I have never quite figured out. In any case, here’s Low, a band from northern Minnesota that cultivated a devoted following through the ’90s while giving new depth of meaning to the word “slow” in the so-called “slowcore” genre. And here’s a song from their latest CD, The Great Destroyer (Subpop Records) that moves with a nice crunchy, toe-tappy bounce. This is not the first upbeat song the band has recorded by any means, but so far they remain indelibly associated with their brooding, slow-burning material. Me, I’m enjoying the grit and intensity a band that knows slow brings to a peppier number. On the one hand, I love the big, fat, but still ambiguous chords that open the song, and drive its center; but on the other hand, check this out: right at the moment in the song where songs that have these kind of big, fat chords will break into a bashing, cathartic instrumental break (at around 2:00 here), Low, slyly, retreats into quiet–instead of big bashes we get a slow, ringing guitar and gentle harmonies, which simmer slowly together before delivering a final almost-bash. Pretty cool. The MP3 is available on the Subpop web site; the CD was released in January.

“Born” – Over the Rhine

Over the Rhine’s Linford Detweiler and Karin Bergquist have learned over the years how to make a singular sort of aching, exquisite music–at once brilliantly wrought and deeply relaxed, equal parts off-hand expertise and deep humanity. “Born” is soft and soulful, an acoustic strummer enhanced by melancholy, restrained steel guitar accents and a piano played with such a warm touch I want to curl up in bed with it. And then of course there’s Bergquist’s bewitching voice, which, if an acquired taste, is way worth acquiring. “Born” will be found on the band’s new CD Drunkard’s Prayer, set for release in late March on Back Porch Records. The MP3 is one of two from the CD now available at PasteMusic.com.

“Sidestepping” – Doris Henson

From the largely ignored metropolis of Kansas City, Kansas comes this curiously named five-man band with a curious-sounding song. Over an itchy, bare-bones rhythm (drumbeat, erratically strummed guitar with some well-placed feedback), “Sidestepping” begins sketchily, singer Matthew Dunehoo’s airy, high-pitched voice kind of toying with the lyrics at first. There seems not to be a verse or chorus; instead, Dunehoo merely sings a lazy, descending melody in between instrumental breaks. But, hey: the volume and intensity of the accompaniment cranks up a notch at around 2:13 and as this subtly new soundscape unfolds, I am transfixed. Everything is the same but different: the lazy descending melody is stretched and hung now upon dramatic chord changes, and Dunehoo’s singing acquires an edgy substance that sounds appealingly to me like Brian Eno doing his best Ray Davies impersonation. “Sidestepping” comes from the band’s new CD, Give Me All Your Money, their second, which will be released later this month on Desoto Records. The MP3 has moved around over the years but it’s still up as of 2011 on The Pitch, a Kansas City alternative paper.




0