Though Low’s formula has changed over time more than it’s critically convenient to mention, their adherence to a guitar, bass, drums and vocals formula has remained pretty constant. Perhaps the result of familiarity breeding contempt (hey, you try doing the same thing for 25 years), here we have Double Negative, an album on which Low reinvent themselves not by adding more to strings to their bow, but by somehow stripping everything back even further.
The world’s most famously minimal rock band are present only at trace levels on their own new album. It’s a frightening, fascinating, next to nothing of a record on which Alan Sparhawk’s guitar playing is largely absent and Mimi Parker’s drumming is replaced by crackles of Throbbing Gristle-like electronics, or distant swathes of ambient sound. Low fans new and old alike will surely be taken aback by opener ‘Quorum’ and its almost industrial assault, while ‘Tempest’ sounds like trying to autotune radio fuzz, and ‘The Son, The Sun’ is a black hole that threatens to swallow up the rest of the album. These aren’t things one has been able to say about any previous Low songs, but even with all of these stylistic left turns, Sparhawk and Parker’s heavenly voices – despite substantial manipulation – remain unmistakably theirs.
It’s demanding music, but it sounds like they needed to make it. The last few Low albums were good records. What they weren’t is particularly interesting. Double Negative is both.
Photo by Shelly Mosman.