This GIGsoup article was written by Daniel Kirby, a GIGsoup contributor. Edited by Hazel Webster.
Led for over two decades by husband-and-wife Alan Sparhawk and Mimi Parker, the Minnesota trio’s output has largely been characterised by its slow tempos, minimalist style and harmonised vocals. It’s an aesthetic that has led them to being lazily labelled as a “slowcore” or “sadcore” band, descriptions Low themselves disapprove of but ones they have found hard to shake off; despite the evolution of their sound over the course of eleven studio albums and work with a number of different producers, including Dave Fridmann (Mercury Rev, The Flaming Lips), Matt Beckley (Katy Perry, Avril Lavigne) and Wilco‘s Jeff Tweedy.
Their earliest material is noted for how hushed it was, partly in defiance of the noisy 90’s that surrounded them. On their albums released between 1999 and 2002, a subtle shift began to take place towards the inclusion of some electronic touches (‘Secret Name’), rockier elements (‘Things We Lost in the Fire’) and a darker, heavier sound (‘Trust’). In 2005 they released their liveliest album to date, ‘The Great Destroyer,’ featuring a cleaner and more straightforward rock sound. They switched direction again for 2007’s ‘Drums and Guns,’ a stark and electronically driven anti-war album. 2011’s ‘C’mon’ and 2013’s ‘The Invisible Way’ also saw further changes, with the former containing a more polished and relatively cheery tone, and the latter seeing a return to their earlier roots but more refined.
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‘Ones and Sixes’ sees Low changing direction again, but this time creating an amalgamation of their best work. It’s perhaps most closely related to ‘Drums and Guns’ with its use of stark electronics but it also incorporates heavy guitars and plenty of warmth as well. Their subtle, slow moving minimalism has never sounded better, producing an album of contrasts with the frequently dark instrumentation working superbly alongside the gorgeous vocal performances of Sparhawk and Parker.
The cold and slightly claustrophobic opener ‘Gentle’ sets the tone with its uneasy electronic beat and piano keys. ‘No Comprende’ takes the album deeper down this path, beginning with a muted guitar-led beat that builds and turns into something altogether meatier and almost doom metal-like. ‘What Part of Me’ is one of the album’s lighter moments and about as radio friendly as anything the trio have produced. ‘The Innocents’ is an album highlight featuring pretty vocals that are contrasted with distorted electronic drums. There’s also the soothing ‘Lies’ with its gentle vocal duet and silent synth-led chorus. It contrasts completely with the follow-up track ‘Landslide,’ which shifts from stark to heavy to dreamy over the course of ten minutes.
There aren’t many bands that last as long as Low, never mind bands that continue to produce some of their best work into their third decade. On this kind of form it wouldn’t be surprising to hear them go one step further at some point down the road. Some may label them “miserablists” but if this is the result then long may it continue.
‘Ones and Sixes’ is out now via Sub Pop