Low - Double Negative

The Quietus

Amid great political, societal, and ecological anxiety, there’s an unspoken insistence that the best art speaks directly to that reality. Recent tumult has spawned a litany of works that hold up mirrors to ourselves and our predicament. But it has also, predictably, become a way of marketing art and music as activism – despite the actual content within often falling short. Everything now is meant to be empowering, important, or commenting on the state of the world that we live in. An exhausting number of new records purport to do this.

Double Negative feels different. It’s the sound of an edgeland, of fear and uncertainty, constant distortion of fact, and relentless end-times mania. The tension, disruption and noise of reality in a media-obsessed West that is in constant crisis feels very faithfully portrayed, and its dread is specific and true. In one of the few almost-comically bleak lyrical turns on the album, guitarist and vocalist Alan Sparhawk sings, “It’s not the end, it’s just the end of hope”. It’s rare that a record’s themes are expressed with such economy.

Low’s discography has often featured gloom and subdued pace as calling cards, and the close vocal harmonies of Sparhawk and drummer Mimi Parker have formed the backbone of their sound for years. Electronics have occasionally skirted the edges of their compositions before, but now that the technology to marry the organic and electronic has become more sophisticated, Low have made a most ambitious grab to harness its full potential.

The first few songs are among the strongest of their career, and make for one of the most assured album openers of recent times. The tracks are perfectly sequenced, and there are moments of agonising sustain and suspense; in a segue between ‘Dancing And Blood’ and ‘Fly’, a relentless industrial pound gives way to three minutes of vocal drone, before a blessed relief of piano chords sets us free.

Across the album, every instrument has been abstracted almost beyond recognition, and all sounds are in messy conflict with each other. Extremities are stretched out, oscillating between claustrophobic rumble and gleaming beauty. The drop-outs and clicks of the album’s most intense moments are littered with cracks that let light shine through. There are times where every bass drum threatens to swallow the mix whole, but it subsides just in time to allow Sparhawk and Parker’s harmonies, or strums of guitar and synthesizer, to briefly surface for air.

It’s both surprising and refreshing that a band 25 years and 12 albums into their career would be bold enough to wilfully obscure their songwriting with such brazen production; with credit to producer BJ Burton for helping to shape that environment. While this pairing successfully widened Low’s sonic remit on their last album, Ones And Sixes, their collective decision to really push beyond that is an utter joy to listen to, even with the darkness that runs through its core. Bands and producers working together don’t usually come up with such wild solutions.

At times, the work of Tim Hecker or Ian William Craig feel like obvious touchstones. But while those artists trade in similar weight and depth – via crackling, glacial surfaces and sub-bass immersions – there’s a different sense of the infinite behind every note on Double Negative. Every decibel feels as though its risen from the abyss just to be audible.

An unexpected consequence of this, is that it’s nearly impossible listen to anywhere except indoors, using noise-cancelling headphones or very loud speakers, with every window shut, and no flicker of outside ambience allowed to penetrate. The songs not only feel like they exist in a vacuum, but that they demand the listener create one too. It’s an important and serious album because it forces you to experience it as one, it asserts itself as the only thing you can concentrate on.

At the same time, however, the most effective political music is the kind that allows space for the listener in its landscape, to consider their place within it, free of blunt observations or truisms. Double Negative works as a fitting and disquieting document of our time because its power lies in nuance and uncertainty. There are no easy answers here, we are left wading through endless murk and crushing darkness, looking for shards of light that slip in through the cracks.

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Fri Sep 28 10:55:26 CEST 2018

100

The Guardian

(Sub Pop)

That title is perhaps a droll, knowing joke. You thought the Duluth trio’s 25 years of slow, minimalist indie rock was gloomy? Well, now it’s doubled down, triple distilled, quadruple concentrated, resulting in the masterpiece that their hugely impressive catalogue has been heading inexorably towards.

Related: 50 great tracks for July from Drake, Ebony Bones, Low and more

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Fri Sep 14 10:00:16 CEST 2018

90

Tiny Mix Tapes

Low
Double Negative

[Sub Pop; 2018]

Rating: 4.5/5

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).

Low songs tend to open and close fairly straightforwardly, but Double Negative dances with us. Nothing quite ends or begins, it just shifts weight. One of the most masterful things about the album is the way it flows, highlighting fugitive detail the way clothing highlights body parts, abandoning the traditional ups and downs of verse/chorus structure. Double Negative owes this poise to its intentional construction — a collaboration and a transferring of creative heft. The band has spoken about opening up its song fragments to Ones and Sixes producer BJ Burton to solder into final form in the studio. Burton even gets a writing credit in the liner notes. This new piece of the structure is enough to demand not only major shifts from the band, but also what seems like a seismic reconciliation with themselves, a sense of accumulated energy finding the right mold into which to pour their statement. Alan Sparhawk has spoken about the battle between letting the songs be pretty and unleashing the devil-may-care energy of rock & roll. Double Negative somehow resolves this problem with its unifying yet alien sound.

On “Rome,” Sparhawk repeats the lyric “always in the dark.” It’s the cry of finding oneself always far below a circling purpose, whether it’s global powers or fate itself. Double Negative finds a way to rage against this powerlessness by keeping energy in reserve yet staying switched on, letting the Parker/Sparhawk vocal harmonies wash over slabs of bleak reverb, alternating fighting lyrics with ones of resignation: “It’s not the end, it’s just the end of hope.”

Feeling is a word that often has a muddied reputation in the world. But it depends whether we’re talking about feeling or feeling. One is a reaction, temporary bursts of refined emotional flavor (outrage, emojis). The other is a sense, something that helps us find our way in the dark. What Double Negative seems to be doing is provoking the listener to actually feel the songs, not by way of the old associative emotions — the you’s and I’s, the easy reactions — but through the deconstruction of what’s habitual, returning music to what it actually is: this other form of communication.

“Instruments and music in general, have the ability to create something that did not exist before,” said Alan Sparhawk in an interview. “How does making a few metal strings vibrate translate to meaning and emotion, through time and space? It exists but does not.”

Whatever the intentions behind the making of this record, Low seem to be exploring music as presence — presence being one of the only ways we have to cut through the noise and confusion, the surfaces and appearances of our chatty, deceptive environment. Music can be a reminder that other forms of communication still exist (sometimes kinder, sometimes truer, sometimes more direct, other times more indirect).

An essay I once read on the Poetry Foundation website talked about how artists bond remotely with their audience. The idea was that even curmudgeonly poets have no idea how much they are loved. If the comments on YouTube are anything to go by — “this song/band saved my life” — musicians, in their turn, are the social workers of the art world. Musicians and artists in general are often engaged in remote communication, a being-there by not being there. In some ways, this indirect communication lines up more closely than ever with what we’re all doing these days — gauntlets thrown, #shotsfired, creative works broadcast to a fragmented, oversubscribed world.

One theme that runs throughout Double Negative is dancing, such as the titles “Dancing and Fire” and “Dancing and Blood,” and the club scene of the promo. In drawing on the dance/club side of music, a connection can be made with the cozy compartmentalization of today’s music, in which dance, the music of the body, gives people a way of being seen and finding others within the perplexing hive of genres and bands. These scenes seem to exist now more as a way of being physical and being together than revering one artist over another.

Music has always been a way of being both alone together and together alone. The bedroom ceiling peels away to reveal the lights of a club. This loneliness and presence is like life — it’s not so much that we don’t get out of it alive, we don’t get out of it at all. Everyone is here, so we’re just going to have to learn to live with each other. Because the fact it can be so big and dark doesn’t diminish the fact that it is, and that we can always feel each other’s presence in it all the time. That presence, that physical presence is approximated by music, a true mechanical not electrical disturbance of the air, like arms holding us in the dark….

Double Negative may be a rebellion against the hangups of the past — not as a change of outfit or even attitude, but as a way to feel out the world again, via method, not madness — without bright lights or guarantees, with the frugal companionship of the practices that keep us whole, be they music or work or taking care of other people. Because the physics of sound informs the dynamic of this searching, Double Negative, while glowering and sinister AF at times, reads as a deconstruction rather than a destruction: a dark, gritty band of interference that’s fallen across the path. In a more subtle way, it appears to be Low’s first political album since Drums and Guns. “You put away the book, what are you waiting for?” “Quorum’s” lyrics intone. What happens when we put away the book, relieve the unnerving and isolating Word from its duties, and start thinking (and feeling) for ourselves? It’s not clear, but these days, it’s not merely wistful — it’s urgent. As the lyric that I think I hear on “Rome” suggests: “Let’s turn this thing up before they take us out.”

Thu Sep 13 06:55:03 CEST 2018

90

Drowned In Sound

Low celebrate 25 years as a band with Double Negative, a record so unabashedly different to the music they first made their name with, it makes Scott Walker look nostalgic.

But as ever with the enduring Minnesotans, it doesn’t feel like they‘re being ostentatious. If it’s perfectly reasonable to compare Double Negative’s chilly electronic snowscapes to those of Radiohead’s Kid A, then this isn’t anything so vulgar as a reinvention… Instead they and producer BJ Burton have simply walked further – a lot further, admittedly – down the path they began with 2015's Ones and Sixes.Their wanderings have led them far away from the silent forests of their slowcore beginnings, way past the rolling plains of sort-of-accessible, sort-of-alt rock mid period, on to somewhere barren and otherworldly, and yet where traces of who they were still lie scattered.



‘Quorum’ exactly sets the tone: roiling, rhythmic, glitchy static, with an almost indecipherable Alan Sparhawk’s heavily treated voice phasing in and out, only the odd phrase fully discernible as a bass drum begins to pound, huge and ponderous, until at last it deepens and quickens into the bed of the haunted ‘Dancing and Blood’. On these tracks, Double Negative shares an awful lot of sonic DNA with the more glacial end of dubstep, though Low have put these sounds to almost entirely different purposes -the ending couple of minutes of ‘Dancing and Blood’ for instance, are just a single, ominous drone.

There are moments when hooks and melodies emerge from the alien din: ‘Fly’ is a fragile, Mimi Parker-sung soul ballad, albeit set over buzzing, Thom Yorke-alike electronics. The closing ‘Disarray’ - the album’s lead track - is positively jaunty, a largely discernible lullaby whose throbbing, nervy production refuses to cloak an essential sweetness and warmth. And ‘Dancing and Fire’ is pretty much an old fashioned, early ‘00s Low dirge - not so much proving they can still do it as demonstrating that this stuff remains in their blood, and makes sense next to the newer work.

Make no mistake, though: at other times, the Low we know are almost unrecognisable. Sparhawk frequently atomises his vocals with effects, leaving a sense of a feeling, but nothing more, his words a strange new instrument. ‘Rome (Always in the Dark)’ is a plunging abyss of bass noise and howled autotune; ‘Poor Sucker’ sounds like The Knife having a moment of introspection; instrumental ‘The Son, The Sun’ is a cold, dark hiss of overloaded speaker that builds to a wordless wail; and ‘Tempest’ might just be the most extraordinary song the band the have ever made, overwhelming clouds of melodious static bubbling and surging around a radiant but totally indecipherable Sparhawk vocal, all eventually obliterated by depth charge bass explosions, huge and distant.

It is an astonishing album, cohesive but wide ranging, sometimes presenting Low as they were, more often seeing the trio forge on until guitars dissolve, words dissolve, flesh dissolves and everything becomes pure light.

![105820](http://dis.resized.images.s3.amazonaws.com/540x310/105820.jpeg)

Thu Sep 13 15:11:40 CEST 2018

90

Tiny Mix Tapes

Low
Double Negative

[Sub Pop; 2018]

Rating: 4.5/5

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).

Low songs tend to open and close fairly straightforwardly, but Double Negative dances with us. Nothing quite ends or begins, it just shifts weight. One of the most masterful things about the album is the way it flows, highlighting fugitive detail the way clothing highlights body parts, abandoning the traditional ups and downs of verse/chorus structure. Double Negative owes this poise to its intentional construction — a collaboration and a transferring of creative heft. The band has spoken about opening up its song fragments to Ones and Sixes producer BJ Burton to solder into final form in the studio. Burton even gets a writing credit in the liner notes. This new piece of the structure is enough to demand not only major shifts from the band, but also what seems like a seismic reconciliation with themselves, a sense of accumulated energy finding the right mold into which to pour their statement. Alan Sparhawk has spoken about the battle between letting the songs be pretty and unleashing the devil-may-care energy of rock & roll. Double Negative somehow resolves this problem with its unifying yet alien sound.

On “Rome,” Sparhawk repeats the lyric “always in the dark.” It’s the cry of finding oneself always far below a circling purpose, whether it’s global powers or fate itself. Double Negative finds a way to rage against this powerlessness by keeping energy in reserve yet staying switched on, letting the Parker/Sparhawk vocal harmonies wash over slabs of bleak reverb, alternating fighting lyrics with ones of resignation: “It’s not the end, it’s just the end of hope.”

Feeling is a word that often has a muddied reputation in the world. But it depends whether we’re talking about feeling or feeling. One is a reaction, temporary bursts of refined emotional flavor (outrage, emojis). The other is a sense, something that helps us find our way in the dark. What Double Negative seems to be doing is provoking the listener to actually feel the songs, not by way of the old associative emotions — the you’s and I’s, the easy reactions — but through the deconstruction of what’s habitual, returning music to what it actually is: this other form of communication.

“Instruments and music in general, have the ability to create something that did not exist before,” said Alan Sparhawk in an interview. “How does making a few metal strings vibrate translate to meaning and emotion, through time and space? It exists but does not.”

Whatever the intentions behind the making of this record, Low seem to be exploring music as presence — presence being one of the only ways we have to cut through the noise and confusion, the surfaces and appearances of our chatty, deceptive environment. Music can be a reminder that other forms of communication still exist (sometimes kinder, sometimes truer, sometimes more direct, other times more indirect).

An essay I once read on the Poetry Foundation website talked about how artists bond remotely with their audience. The idea was that even curmudgeonly poets have no idea how much they are loved. If the comments on YouTube are anything to go by — “this song/band saved my life” — musicians, in their turn, are the social workers of the art world. Musicians and artists in general are often engaged in remote communication, a being-there by not being there. In some ways, this indirect communication lines up more closely than ever with what we’re all doing these days — gauntlets thrown, #shotsfired, creative works broadcast to a fragmented, oversubscribed world.

One theme that runs throughout Double Negative is dancing, such as the titles “Dancing and Fire” and “Dancing and Blood,” and the club scene of the promo. In drawing on the dance/club side of music, a connection can be made with the cozy compartmentalization of today’s music, in which dance, the music of the body, gives people a way of being seen and finding others within the perplexing hive of genres and bands. These scenes seem to exist now more as a way of being physical and being together than revering one artist over another.

Music has always been a way of being both alone together and together alone. The bedroom ceiling peels away to reveal the lights of a club. This loneliness and presence is like life — it’s not so much that we don’t get out of it alive, we don’t get out of it at all. Everyone is here, so we’re just going to have to learn to live with each other. Because the fact it can be so big and dark doesn’t diminish the fact that it is, and that we can always feel each other’s presence in it all the time. That presence, that physical presence is approximated by music, a true mechanical not electrical disturbance of the air, like arms holding us in the dark….

Double Negative may be a rebellion against the hangups of the past — not as a change of outfit or even attitude, but as a way to feel out the world again, via method, not madness — without bright lights or guarantees, with the frugal companionship of the practices that keep us whole, be they music or work or taking care of other people. Because the physics of sound informs the dynamic of this searching, Double Negative, while glowering and sinister AF at times, reads as a deconstruction rather than a destruction: a dark, gritty band of interference that’s fallen across the path. In a more subtle way, it appears to be Low’s first political album since Drums and Guns. “You put away the book, what are you waiting for?” “Quorum’s” lyrics intone. What happens when we put away the book, relieve the unnerving and isolating Word from its duties, and start thinking (and feeling) for ourselves? It’s not clear, but these days, it’s not merely wistful — it’s urgent. As the lyric that I think I hear on “Rome” suggests: “Let’s turn this thing up before they take us out.”

Thu Sep 13 06:55:03 CEST 2018

87

Pitchfork

The austere trio has profoundly warped their slowcore sound to create an ambitious, modern wonder of an album, an exploration of the song as an imperfect conduit of feeling.

Fri Sep 14 07:00:00 CEST 2018