The Great Destroyer
So you have these old friends. You used to stay up late with them, drinking tea or port or whatever struck your youth-addled mind as the sophisticated pairing to their wistful melancholy. These days, you don't spend much time together except around the holidays, when their old Christmas album reminds you how well suited their music is to desolate winter dreamscapes, and you wonder why you grew apart. That Gap ad was a surprise, but didn't they deserve a little success? Sure, their committed Mormonism seemed a little unusual to you, but they never made that into any kind of big deal. And you weren't sure what to think when they started hanging out with that Steve Albini guy, but you figured he should take the blame for turning the dirges that made The Curtain Hits the Cast a perfect anti-monument to loneliness into the cumbersome almost-rock of Trust and Things We Lost in the Fire. Still, why not catch up? You're a little older now, too, and know why time and its sister, death, might join inchoate longing and regret as a band's subject matter, why the sweetness and sadness that once marked its brand of slowcore are now tinged with bitterness and even aggression. Even if you're still mourning the spare, stretched-out somnolence of the their early releases, you have to admit that these rolling timpani and steel drums, these tubalike bass lines and distorted guitars, fit their newly explored moods and carve the sort of sonic spaces that make you glad you splurged on good headphones. Low no longer often evoke the chaos of a windstorm on the open prairie, but it's worth checking in to hear what it sounds like to be hemmed in between Duluth's steep hills and the cold, cold water of Lake Superior. KRISTAL HAWKINS
Low play Neumo's with Pedro the Lion at 8 p.m. Thurs., March 24 (all ages), and Fri., March 25 (21 and over). $15.
Can ya stand this much pure, uncut Lou Barlow? I'm not sure I can. Even back when I was at the height of lonely-boy obsession over his now-hibernating band, Sebadoh, I couldn't parse the solo stuff; without his bandmates to provide electric counterpoint to his self-absorption, he was lost in a haze of adenoidal depressiveness too inert to warm to. Now, nearly 10 years after his day in the sun, Barlow's "matured" some . . . but no need to gag at that middlebrow word, because the developments are all positives here. He's lovingly developed his material over a couple years, kept the wrist slitting and formal willfulness in check, and lost some of the wimp in his voice. Yet the dread saminess of yore can't quite be entirely eradicated, with nearly every song stuck in a Mel Bay moment that he can't quite get out of, composed of acoustic guitar up-and-down plunk-plunk-plunk-plunk that sticks to its beat far too metronomically. The one time he registers any real rhythmic acuity is when—deep breath—he covers Ratt. Just like with the old stuff, there's plenty to cherry-pick: the Jesus spoof; the ode to a transient cat; "Caterpillar Girl," wherein the birth of a newborn uncharacteristically prompts Barlow to profess feelings of transcendence, bringing to mind those innocent times when people used to talk about possible fluke indie hits; hell, even the Ratt cover. Next time, though, he should reach out (even) more to Jason Lowenstein. MICHAEL DADDINO
Lou Barlow plays Sunset Tavern with Steve Turner & His Bad Ideas and Graham Travis at 9 p.m. Fri., March 25. $10.
A blog called Productshop NYC recently teamed up with the Suicide Girls to compile a list of what they deemed "The Hundred Greatest Records to Listen to While Making Sweet Love." The results seem like a random list of CDs commonly owned by white twentysomethings, with the low end populated mainly by indie-rock head scratchers (Guided by Voices and Godspeed You Black Emperor? Um, really?) and the top 20 dominated by moody drone rock and trip-hop. It's a safe bet that if a similar list is created within the next few years, No Wow will place high on it. From start to finish, the record sounds as though it were created specifically as a soundtrack for hipster sex. Every song is an exercise in sustained sensual tension, offering almost nothing in the way of release but nearly overdosing on jittery drum loops and breathy vocals. The duo are at their best when they foreground their sexual dynamic by sharing the microphone. On "The Good Ones" and "At the Back of the Shell," the mutterings of boy guitarist Hotel (né Jamie Hince) are buried under the confident PJ Harvey–like drawl of girl singer VV (aka Allison Mosshart). This strategy has been employed to similar effect by Suicide Girls favorite Tricky, though Hotel lacks any of his menace or machismo and instead plays up an air of stoned diffidence. The Kills have an effective formula, but the sameness of the songs becomes numbing, which obscures the strong material on the second half of the album. However, by that point you may be too occupied to notice either way. MATTHEW PERPETUA
The Kills play Crocodile Cafe with the Sights and Man Man at 9:30 p.m. Fri., March 25. $12.