Low seemed like a unique group from the start. They were a married, practicing Mormon couple, dedicated to playing as smoothly and slowly as possible, much like the grunge era of the early ’90s. In fact, Low stood out so much that people felt forced to invent a new sub-genre to describe what they were doing: slowcore. It was a label the band didn’t like and which quickly grew too big; it turned out that they could move at a fairly fast pace when it was convenient for them.
Then, 25 years after the start of their career, Low became even more unique. Their sound had always changed and changed, sometimes in unpredictable directions, and electronic percussion had crept into the Ones and Sixes of 2015. But nothing could quite prepare listeners for Double Negative of 2018, which took the lead. kind of studio processes common in modern mainstream pop – transposed vocals, digital manipulation, the sidechain compression that makes the rhythm tracks of pop-dance hits puncture everything else – crank them all up to 11 and have them applied to a rock band. The end result was an album that really sounded like nothing else. Low weren’t the only alternative rock artists to think in roughly similar lines – Double Negative was produced by BJ Burton, who had worked on the 22, A Million, fractured by Bon Iver’s technology – but the The extreme with which the sound of the band was altered changed. Double Negative in a category of its own.
Additionally, he was released 18 months after the start of the Trump presidency, his campaign managers jailed for fraud, and Rudy Giuliani told NBC “the truth is not the truth.” His lyrics seldom touched on American politics – instead dealing with everything from Mormon attitudes to same-sex marriage to mental health – but his unidentifiable bursts of sound, distorted voice, and overwhelming mood of terror always seemed to match the moment. smelling like a transmission of a disastrously country on the fritz, “dissolved in a hideous reverse state” as its closing track put it.
The album of the year received due acclaim, but the shock of Double Negative also seemed to worry the group that made it. It sounded like music literally pushed to the limit, and once you’ve pushed everything to the limit, the question of where you go next becomes urgent. Fortunately, this is a question that Hey What answers perfectly by fine-tuning and adapting the sound of its predecessor.
The first thing you hear at the opening of White Horses is a guitar transformed into a sort of panting, jerky moan, followed by a rhythm track made up of crisp digital distortion. The latter sound may have been produced by a guitar, but it is impossible to say for sure. The song ends with an unadorned minute and a half of its unwavering pulsation, which quickens and becomes the basis for the second track, I Can Wait. Then when you encounter the spongy sound textures of All Night – you end up stopping trying to figure out which instrument was originally involved – it’s hard not to be struck by the idea that on someone’s album. ‘another, that might be the strangest piece; on Hey What, it feels like a kind of breath, before diving into the increasingly glaring sound world of Disappearing.
Avis is therefore meant that Low is not interested in reducing Double Negative’s conflicting experimental advantage, but that is not the whole story. Hey What is also a much more melodic album than its predecessor. Alan Sparhawk and Mimi Parker’s beautiful vocal harmonies are largely unadorned and louder, which seems to give the songs – or at least the listener – a little more room to breathe.
This matches the tone of the album, which cannot be called optimistic, but at least reaches a note of stoicism. The strength of Sparhawk and Parker’s partnership as a bulwark against the premiere’s fight against depression informs Don’t Walk Away and The Price You Pay (It Must Be Wearing Off). The lyrics of Days Like These consider the world teetering from crisis to crisis, but there is something truly moving about the melody, which cuts through the explosions of its exhausted medium, while the long instrumental coda is calm and purposeful. At other times, the juxtaposition of vocals and music is more unsettling: Hey claims the most beautiful melody on the album, but it’s set on a medium that constantly shifts from a delicate, flickering vibe to something much darker and more frightening. Stranger still, in its own way, Hey What rocks, notably on the fantastic More, based on a riff that seems to be halfway between Led Zeppelin and My Bloody Valentine, if you cross your eyebrows.
A lot of bands have been compared to My Bloody Valentine over the years, largely because they were desperately trying to sound like them. The weak aren’t really, but they still think they’re a suitable name to take up. The music that Low is currently making carries a similar, head-turning tune, where-the-hell-did-it-come-from-the-air to Isn’t Anything and Loveless; like those albums, the folks behind Hey What are redefining the way a rock band can sound. It does say something – about Low and rock music – that you have to go back 30 years to find something with those qualities.
What Alexis listened to this week
Disco-infused pop, but Naked feels deeper than that: there’s something wrong and sinister about the strings, and a sense of unease amidst the rhythms of the dance floor.