By Andrew Breazeale, Contributor
[Sub Pop; 2018]
Key Tracks: “Fly”, “Poor Sucker”, “Disarray”
Minnesota-based trio Low has returned triumphantly 24 years after their inception with their 12th studio album, Double Negative. The indie rock group has come back in full swing with this cohesive, dreamy work of art riddled with eccentric production and otherworldly vocals. This intense portal into the genre of slowcore brings out the best of the group and their boundary-pushing discography, combining elements of every genre into a discordant body of unified energy.
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The album opens with “Quorum”, a violent, ear-shattering track that holds a hidden beauty in the ethereal vocals and moments of silence that suspend us in space before launching into vibrating synths. The angry, uncontrollable beat at the end of the song leads directly into “Dancing and Blood”, the longest track on the album at six minutes and 22 seconds. A slow building track, “Dancing and Blood” uses enthralling, almost-operatic vocals to entice the listener, easing them down into a note that is held for two minutes until the final seconds of the song.
That striking note carries the listener into “Fly”, a delicately balanced track that combines the gorgeous vocals of lead guitarist Alan Sparhawk with pulsating synths. This transcendent track takes the listener on a journey through another world, ending on a heartbeat-like throbbing that subtly moves us into “Tempest”. Filled with electronic turbulence, “Tempest” seems to argue with itself, alternating from intensely distorted beats to a peaceful, calming rhythm. Almost seamlessly, the conflicted “Tempest” turns into the pacifying “Always Up”, an incredibly raw look into the soul of the group. The calming beat is like a breath of fresh air in a storm, highlighted by pensive lyrics that let out all the built-up energy created by the raging commotion of the album before, slowly leading the song into the abyss.
Double Negative continues with the powerful ballad “Always Trying to Work It Out”, a vivid expanse of swelling synths that simultaneously creates feelings of both triumph and loss. “Always Trying to Work It Out” moves back and forth from bass-heavy crescendos to tranquil quivers of noise, joining beautifully with heavenly vocals that resonate deep within the body.
But just like the name of the band, Double Negative also has its lows, which are found in “The Son, The Sun”. With an empowering first half of the album, this disappointing hubbub of buzzing serves no purpose but to hold listeners’ attention. After this three minute block of virtual silence, the album continues quietly with “Dancing and Fire”, an acoustic melody overlaid with angelic vocals. The harmonious chant fills the ears with hypnotic lyrics, slowly fading into nothing until the listener is thrown into “Poor Sucker”, another standout on the album. Opening as an ambient, empowering serenade, the lyrics reveal the dark message of loss and betrayal behind the soothing beat.
As “Poor Sucker” fades away, another low point of the album arises. “Rome (Always in the Dark)” is a dramatic and sudden jump into a monotone chant that serves as an unpleasant interruption to an otherwise enjoyable listening experience. Although it has the potential to be an exceptional track, the repetitive lyrics and boring nature of the beat make it a very skippable song. But just as this track ends, we’re transported into “Disarray”, a world of stunning gospel-like vocals and an addicting beat that pulses until the very end. This cap to the album perfectly combines all of the dazzling and cacophonous elements of the previous tracks, sending the listener off craving more unique and unfamiliar artists to listen to.
After making music for so long, Low continues to reach new heights by combining genres, topping charts and trying bold, new things. The entrancing energy this album puts out, as well as the incredible production and bewitching cohesiveness, will definitely draw in new and old fans alike. After crafting an album filled with such intimacy, unity and intensity that also makes a forceful statement about life, love and loss, this trio is sure to stick around for years to come.