By Troy Hasselman, October 12 2018 —
Low has always dealt with the adverse. From the band’s often melancholic subject matter to their slow-moving arrangements, negativity is central to Low’s music. Based around the decades-long partnership between founding members Alan Sparhawk and Mimi Parker, Low has been releasing sedate albums for nearly 25 years. The band’s 12th album, Double Negative, represents these motifs even more so than their previous work, with the group embracing negativity in both theme and sound — adding in heavily processed vocals, industrial-tinged drums and noisy production.
The more experimental direction comes with the help of B.J. Burton, who has produced for Low in the past and is perhaps best known for his work on Bon Iver’s 22, A Million. His experimental flourishes complement the album’s dark themes, which takes an unflinching look at life in 2018 and the anxiety and despair that goes along with it. Double Negative manages to separate itself from other commentaries on our current era by avoiding attempts at easy answers, instead trying to illustrate and embody — musically and lyrically — thoure fears and tensions.
The songs on this album flout structure and convention, making it difficult to discern verses from choruses upon early listens as dissonant elements pop up in the songs and disappear just as quickly. “Dancing and Blood” exemplifies this. The song is built around a throbbing industrial rhythm and the effect-laden vocals of Sparhawk and Parker, embodying the album’s paranoid atmosphere before eventually dissolving into an ambient haze. Other highlights include the one-two punch of “Tempest” and “Always Up,” which use the buzz of a keyboard and vocoder-inflected vocals to beautiful effect, creating a meditative and melancholic vibe that unites the two tracks into a pulsing rhythm. The album also contains quieter moments such as “The Son, The Sun,” which pairs the faint vocal harmonies of Sparhawk and Parker over a machine-like hum in the background.
While this turn to electronics and experimentation can garner obvious comparisons to similar artistic left-turns like Radiohead’s Kid A or David Bowie’s Low, Double Negative manages to capture precisely what made them masterpieces. Double Negative offers deeply experimental arrangements while maintaining a high degree of musicality and intricate songwriting. These are some of the best songs Low has released in years.