Low – Ones and Sixes – Review by Killian Laher
Of the many bands that emerged in the mid-nineties who couldn’t be pigeonholed into ‘grunge’, it’s perhaps a surprise that one band with an extremely narrow focus, Low, are still a going concern. They have, of course, broadened their sound, taking their original slow and quiet aesthetic and adding raucous guitars and electronics, depending on the album. Their most recent two albums, 2011’s C’mon and 2013’s The Invisible Way were warmer, less confrontational albums.
On the evidence of Ones and Sixes, their eleventh album, things have become chillier and more uncertain in Alan Sparhawk and co’s world. Opening track Gentle is anything but opening with eerie keyboards and distorted beats on an unsettling melody, allowing Sparhawk and Mimi Parker’s distressed harmonies to take centre stage, on a track where the mix seems decidedly ‘off’. The drums are electronically treated on several of the tracks, such as No Comprende, another track filled with creeping dread, culminating in some deft guitar work from Sparhawk. Spanish Translation turns the thermostat up (marginally) on a classically pretty Low duet, but it’s a brief moment of respite as programmed beats introduce Congregation, which despite production which makes it sound like a refugee from 2007’s Drums and Guns, has possibly the most impossibly gorgeous melody on the entire album. Later, The Innocents has a similarly bleak production adorning another fine melody. Here Parker is to the fore, imploring “all you innocents make a run for it”. Too late.
It’s fair to say that if you haven’t turned on to Low at this stage, you might have some difficulty doing so here. This album has a more wintry hue than of late, coolly catchy tunes like No End and the Parker-sung Into You may seem forbidding to the uninitiated, but What Part of Me has one of their most straightforward melodies of anything they’ve previously recorded. You could almost imagine it on mainstream radio, acting as an introductory point to the album. Penultimate track Landslide is one of the more epic moments here, opening with sparse electric guitar chords before unfolding over almost ten minutes with a long instrumental passage, allowing Sparhawk to give his electric guitar some serious abuse. It’s a euphoric track, not far off the mood conjured up by C’mon’s Nothing But Heart. We end, however, on a downbeat note. DJ is a slow deliberate tune, though it’s one of the more satisfying on the album, concludes this album on a decidedly funereal note.
It’s definitely their most unsettling album since Drums and Guns, but even allowing for this, the band once again show themselves to be one of the classiest indie bands around. They have a commitment to unflinchingly serious music, yet scarcely put a foot wrong on an album stuffed full of moody delights.
2. No Comprende
3. Spanish Translation
5. No End
6. Into You
7. What Part of Me
8. The Innocents
9. Kid in the Corner