Author: Riley Urbano
I’d be remiss to call Low anything other than absolute veterans in the world of indie music. The central power-couple of Alan Sparhawk and Mimi Parker have been steady at it, honing their slow-core sound since the early ‘90s. In the middle of their career, they jumped from one of the coolest record labels out there, Kranky, to the indie powerhouse that is Sub Pop. They’ve worked with artists and producers ranging from Steve Albini (the guy who recorded Surfer Rosa and In Utero) to Dave Fridmann (the guy who mixed Lonerism, and recorded The Soft Bulletin and Oracular Spectacular) to Swans, contributing their distinctive harmonized vocals to the opening track of The Seer. Oddly enough, they’ve been covered by Robert Plant of Led Zeppelin fame. Next Wednesday, March the 20th, they’re bringing a very interesting new record of theirs to the stage for a sold-out show at Neumos.
The record in question would be 2018’s Double Negative, one of my favorite albums of that year and a huge stylistic left-turn for the band. Since breaking out in the early 2000s with records like Trust and Things We Lost in the Fire, Low has stayed pretty focused on nailing a very specific sort of vibe. It’s simple, almost minimalistic, slow: Sparhawk and Parker sharing vocal duties, him on guitar and her on drums, with a rotating cast of bassists that as of now has settled on a guy named Steve Garrington. Record after record was marked by very slow tempos, heartbreakingly somber chord progressions, and maybe, if they were feeling fancy, the subtle employment of some guitar distortion, piano, or perhaps a synth part. They were technically a rock band, but only technically; most of their work is really only a few beats-per-minute too fast to qualify as post-rock, or even ambient music.
That all changes with Double Negative, a harsh and noisy electronic record without too many discernible guitars. Way more Kid A than Give Up, if you get my meaning: it’s easily one of the boldest statements the band has ever made, and for a band that’s so new to electronic production styles, they come through with legitimately cutting edge work. It’s all there in the opening track, which I maintain to be one of the most arresting compositions anyone released last year:
I mean… are you hearing this? It sounds like how taking a hammer to an ice sculpture must feel, it’s just so cold and fractured and haunting. In the center of it all remains one of my favorite things about the band, which are the incredible harmonies that Sparhawk and Parker reliably deliver, song for song for song. Elsewhere on Double Negative are even more intense forays into noise and digital distortion, as well as some digitally-composed ambient music that stands up against the work of veterans like Tim Hecker (who is also, as it turns out, signed to Kranky.) As for the question of how the new bells and whistles are going to translate in a live environment… Honestly? No idea. But they’ve got enough of a built in fan base by now that the show is sold out. If you’re into highly influential vanguard indie stuff or cutting edge electronic music, you might wanna consider trying to scalp a ticket for this one.
RILEY URBANO | i could live in hope | KXSU Music Reporter