Low – Double Negative – Album Review by Killian Laher
Low are releasing their twelfth album, a fact which in itself is unremarkable. But if you ever thought Low are just not bleak enough, not difficult or plain ‘out there’ enough, this is the album for you. One thing Low have almost always been, along with being slow and quiet, is melodic. On first listen, this theory is unceremoniously fired out of the window. The closest antecedent to this album is 2007’s Drums and Guns, which sounds lush in comparison to what’s here.
Quorum opens with muffled static and percussion. That’s right, not just static, muffled static. Gradually snatches of keyboards and vocals swing in before being swept back out again. It’s pretty unsettling, but entirely compelling. It’s followed up swiftly by crashing, heavily treated percussion which introduces the sinister Dancing and Blood. Mimi Parker’s ghostly vocal is buried somewhat, yet there is melody here which cracks through, along with Alan Sparhawk’s spooky, minimal guitar work. After such a strange opening pair, the eerie, stripped-back Fly sounds almost conventional, despite Parker singing at the very top of her range. Comparative serenity ensues, briefly.
Tempest shatters any lingering serenity. What is ostensibly a downbeat, slow crawl is distorted out of all reason, especially the heavily vocodered vocals, to the point that it barely resembles music at all. Instead it sounds like a terrifying, muffled noise. It’s unlikely to make many playlists!
After this, if you’ve stuck with the album till now, all your defences will be down and resistance is futile. Always Up is sparser than what has gone before, consisting mainly of Sparhawk and Parker’s voices swooping in and out of icy keyboards, before the warped, funereal stomp of Always Trying To Work It Out, a track that descends into ear-splitting noise halfway through.
The Son, The Sun goes full ambient, consisting of spooky keyboards and howling, wordless vocals and little else. This acts as a palette cleanser before the frost lifts briefly for Dancing and Fire. Opening with Alan Sparhawk gently strumming his guitar, it’s the one track that could fit one of their older albums, and you can actually make out the song lyrics. This has the effect of creating the sweetest, yet most desolate vocal on the entire album as he sings “it’s not the end it’s just the end of hope”. Which of course in Low’s hands, is completely brilliant.
More garbled noise introduces Poor Sucker, but by now their vocals are refusing to bow to the suffocating noise, and ultimately here they transcend it, by the end of the song you can even pick out a lonely keyboard part. Rome is another rough-sounding track and the album concludes with the pulsing, distorted, appropriately-named Disarray, a track that sounds every bit as strange as what precedes it.
It seems amazing now to think that at one point the band could have been accused of repeating themselves. Low could not be further removed from resting on their laurels and churning out different versions of the same album. Once again they have pushed the boundaries of their sound and confounded expectations.
Double Negative will not be to everyone’s taste. Undeniably this is not an album to introduce people to Low. For those already under the spell of the band, it will polarise. Some may really struggle with it, as it’s probably their most difficult album to get your head around. Others will find it utterly addictive for that reason.
Track List –
2. Dancing and Blood
5. Always Up
6. Always Trying To Work It Out
7. The Son, The Sun
8. Dancing and Fire
9. Poor Sucker
10. Rome (Always In The Dark)
Dancing and Blood