Over the years, Low have been on labels as diverse as Kranky and Virgin offshoot Vernon Yard, worked with distinctive producers like Kramer and Steve Albini, and have managed to adapt their sound without losing any of their identity. All of this applies to Great Destroyer, the band's first album for Sub Pop and their first collaboration with producer Dave Fridmann. Fridmann's detailed sound is a far cry from either Kramer or Albini's minimalist tendencies, but his work here shows that Low can sound as good in elaborate settings as they do in simple ones: "Monkey"'s intricate layers of distorted drums, organ, and guitar have an unusual depth, and the synth strings and heartbeat-like electronic drums on "Cue the Strings" just add to the intimacy and subtlety of Alan Sparhawk and Mimi Parker's harmonies. Ironically enough, Great Destroyer is by far Low's most polished and accessible-sounding album, even more so than their quasi major-label output. That may turn off purists yearning for I Could Live in Hope's simplicity, but aside from the bigger sound, there's something for almost every kind of Low fan on the album: chilly, brooding songs ("Pissing," "Everybody's Song"), gentle but powerful songs ("On the Edge Of," "Silver Rider") and gorgeous epics ("Broadway (So Many People)"). The group's touted rock direction offers some of Great Destroyer's strongest, and weakest, moments. "California"'s soaring warmth has odd but appealing early- to mid-'90s alt pop sheen to it, sounding a bit like Girlfriend-era Matthew Sweet played at half speed. However, "Just Stand Back" and "Step" are somewhat clunky and contrived, with the production overwhelming the songs. The tracks about aging and acceptance -- a major theme on Great Destroyer -- feel much more genuine, particularly "When I Go Deaf," another of the band's bittersweet and slightly disturbing songs like "In Metal." "Death of a Salesman," a short, stripped-down tale of what's left behind with age, is also affecting; though an album full of songs like these might be too much, they're wonderfully intimate glimpses. "Walk Into the Sea" provides a relatively uplifting -- if not happy -- ending to this thoughtful, graceful album, but at this point, it's difficult to expect anything less from Low.
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AllMusic Review by Heather Phares