Pablos Choice, Record Of The Week – 14/09/2018 – Low Double Negative
14th September 2018
Here’s what the press are saying….
The first time I heard Double Negative’s single “Dancing and Blood,” I thought “Wow, this sounds a lot like my Eustachian tube dysfunction…” It was a curmudgeonly stumble of subdued club dynamics, a pounding heartbeat progressively submerged in shrouds of distortion and static/white noise. It seemed aggressively minimal — all about the pauses, the exits, the valves, and the vents. Was this another veteran band deciding to throw a loud party on the precipice of political/climate oblivion? The old guy in the club in the song’s promo a figure for working out a late-career rebellion à la Thom Yorke?
Without its companions on the album, the exercise could have seemed like a middle finger to the old Low, but then the cryptic “Quorum,” the album’s opener, drifted into view. Listening to the songs as they were designed to play, it became clear that the fluctuating volume, the interruptions of static and noise were more a deliberate setting for this experiment than merely a stab at reinvention.
When we listen to Double Negative, we actively participate in this experiment. If we want to find the songs, we have to feel them — down there in the textured noise, holding together in slow, considered arrangements (in a way, Low songs have always had this formal, still relationship within their parts; it’s just being teased out to its extremity here). Our brains have to do a little more work this time — to make sense of scrambled signals, to find the tooth of the wave, the treads between surface and pressure (sound, intention).…..Read More
Duluth, Minnesota indie titans, Low, are currently celebrating their twenty-fifth year as a band and returning with their twelfth studio album, Double Negative. The album marks an extraordinary point in the trio’s career – an album rich in darkness and in texture, finding Low in experimental sublimity, further reminding us that their range has only gotten exceptionally larger and better over time.
Double Negative begins similarly to something you’d expect from Tim Hecker. “Quorum” pulsates with trickling static accompanied alongside warm, choral vocals that are being interfered and manipulated with. Alan Sparhawk and Mimi Parker’s singing is often cloaked throughout with layers of haze, crackling and struggling along, intermittently coming in and out of focus as though they’re trapped beneath something. It even brings to mind a rather haunting connection to William Basinski’s The Disintegration Loops, but with vocals rather than synthesized textures taking centre stage. Low’s shift, however, doesn’t come entirely out of the blue – they’ve aligned themselves with similar company in the past (preforming alongside bands like Radiohead, Godspeed You! Black Emperor, and Labradford) and its overlap is much of what we hear Low projecting on Double Negative.…..Read More
These days, there is a constant and seemingly endless supply of new music at our fingertips. If you work as music journalist, you get thousands of emails a day alerting you to impending releases or sending you dozens of albums months away from entering the world. You can never sift through it all, but you explore as much as you can, figuring out where everything fits together. There are often surprises, not just in albums dropping out of the sky but in the gratification of an artist you’ve long loved and supported coming out of left field with a stunning new sound or leveling up to the next tier of success and notoriety. There is always something to react to, and in the ever-changing music landscape of today, it often feels like our job to try and make all the scattered pieces cohere into something legible.
But every now and then, you come across an album that is truly startling. An album that seems to completely exist outside of any specific time and place, an album for which you have no exact frame of reference. These go beyond the albums you weren’t expecting, the ones that forge ahead in ways that take a couple listens to wrap your head around. These are albums that present as enigmas, the music therein some unholy and awe-inspiring shock to the system that can remain inscrutable for months (or years) after you’ve first come into contact with it. These are albums that operate in their own dimension, the music tapping into something eternal and unsettling and hypnotic.
It’s been just about three months since I first listened to Low’s new album Double Negative, and I’m still striving to make sense of it. In their 25 years as a band — primarily built on the partnership between Alan Sparhawk and Mimi Parker, though joined in this decade by bassist Steve Garrington — Low has built up one of the more formidable and quietly diverse catalogs in indie. And yet, there is still little that would’ve prepared us for Double Negative in their past work. It’s one of their strangest and most beautiful albums, and it’s one of the strangest and most beautiful albums of the year. It’s not just an outlier for Low. It doesn’t sound like almost anything else out there.….Read More
Low are marking their 25th anniversary but, judging by the tone of ‘Double Negative’, they’re not in a celebratory mood. The album is a remarkable step-change for the Duluth trio and sees them return to the experimentation of 2007’s ‘Drums And Guns’, which responded to the Iraq war with distortion and loops.
As if galvanised by a world that’s once again collapsing, they’ve pushed their sound even closer to the edge of disintegration.
Traditional songs and recording techniques have been ripped apart and re-built in a manner that engenders discord and confusion. The trademark harmonies between guitarist Alan Sparhawk and drummer Mimi Parker are fragmented, snatches of vocals rising to the surface of the mix to ominously intone “it’s not the end / it’s just the end of hope.”
This gives the impression that tracks were recorded from the inside of a wind tunnel, the electronic static on ‘Quorum’ creating a woozy effect as the instrumentation is brought in and out of focus. ‘Always Trying To Work It Out’, meanwhile, sounds like the vinyl recording became warped after being left in the sun too long.
With so much distortion and bone-shuddering bass, it’s the unexpected moments of clarity that provide the greatest jolt. ‘Always Up’ has the hallmarks of classic Low yet, set to just a drone, it feels disembodied, while ‘Dancing And Fire’ turns serenity into a weapon of despair. These two emotions are inextricably linked throughout the album, with the expression of desolation also the start of hope.….Have a Listen
The search for beauty in dark times may require extra effort, but it is all the more rewarding when it emerges. When your understanding of your country is skewed by events beyond your control, how do you channel that into art? Is it as simple as writing a set of protest songs or is there another way? For Low, it would seem there is. As the creators of some of the most beautiful music of the past twenty-five years, the wilful mangling of melody that lies at the heart of ‘Double Negative’ is a remarkably powerful reaction and a deeply moving listen.
If ever an album was built to make a mockery of the stream once and tweet era, it was this one. Those accustomed to the majestic delights of ‘Try To Sleep’, ‘So Blue’ and ‘Lies’ from their most recent albums will likely find initial listens to ‘Double Negative’ pretty hard going. While hints of this sound were there on 2015’s ‘Ones And Sixes’, the rolling distortion of opener ‘Quorum’, overloaded fragments of ‘Tempest’ and flutter of ‘Poor Sucker’ are immediately unsettling. These songs seem ugly, wearing their pain and destruction with purpose. A raw, emotional core slowly seeps out as the disruption becomes normalised.…..Read More
Watch Dancing and Blood Below