WHEN LOW’S DEBUT ALBUM I Could Live In Hope, was released in 1994, it was one of the first so-called slowcore releases. Alan Sparhawk had written some impressive tunes, but with its unvarying, sub-walking pace drums and just the odd piece of unruly guitar, the group’s spartan music seemed, at times, to equate slowness with profundity. Surely something would have to change drastically for the second album? It didn’t, but two decades on, the group’s music sounds fresher now than it did at the start. Sparhawk’s songs are still on the slow side, but here they involve a mix of electronic beats, Mimi Parker’s minimal drums and some extra percussion supplied by Wilco’s Glenn Kotche.
Within these parameters, Low’s dynamic range has gradually widened. Over the tolling drums of Spanish Translation, Sparhawk’s guitars swell up to match his impassioned vocals. Congregation is a hypnotic combination of ticking electronic percussion and Steve Garrington’s bass doubling sombre piano chords, all underpinned by backgrounded noise guitar. It takes good judgment to pare things down this far, but on this song it’s a perfect vehicle for Parker’s gorgeous double-tracked vocals.
Ones And Sixes’ most potent tracks are when the two vocalists sing harmony – their voices a near-perfect fit. On the surface, What Part Of Me is the breeziest song here, but beneath the airbrushed vocals, the chorus of “What part of me don’t you know?/What part of me don’t you own?” and the verse lines “Can’t you see I’m bleedin’ out here/Waking up from a dreaming out here” point towards a near-suffocating anxiety.
On The Innocents, squelchy electronic beats sketch the structure, together with watery drones and clipped, syncopated guitar and bass. The harmony vocal lines are so seductive, that it’s easy to overlook the lyrical sentiments – “All you innocents make a run for it.” Lies is built on vocal melodies that arc up into a gauzy halo of sound and reverby space. “When they found you by the edge of the road/You had a pistol underneath your coat,” sings Sparhawk, setting up a disquieting mood.
Landslide is a 10-minute epic. Back in 1994, a Low song of this length and title would probably have been a methodically ploughed rut under clouds of six-string gloom. But from the angry guitar chords that usher in the verses, the song – more a glacial flow than an avalanche – slips into a repeated chorale by the two vocalists, buffeted by rapidly moving guitar squalls.
Low have made one of the most impressive albums of their career and it still feel like their best work is ahead of them rather than being stuck back in the past.
Listen to Ones And Sixes via Apple Music now.
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