If you don’t already know them, Low are a well-established (1993) ‘indie rock’ band comprised of husband and wife couple Alan Sparhawk (cool name) and Mimi Parker. Other members have come and gone through time, and last year (the year that shall not be named) Low saw the departure of their longest serving band mate Steve Carrington. However, Sparhawk and Parker remain solid as the unwavering and incredibly talented foundation of Low. Now working as a duo for the first time in Low’s history, I’m happy to report that their new album release does not seem to be impacted at all by the recent change, or even that ‘if Voldemort could be a year what year would he be’ time vortex we called 2020.
Once you have heard Parker and Sparhawk sing, it makes sense that the two have known each other since they were nine years old. The couple’s strength together transfers readily into the harmonious vocals and bewitching melodies found within their new album release HEY WHAT, out on Sub Pop records.
I had to have a listen to their last album Double Negative which, compared to their previous works, reminded me of when Radiohead brought out Kid A. It felt experimental and veered away from their usual style into something…else. It was an art project focusing on sound, and their vocals were often overshadowed by static feedback or distorted sounds. HEY WHAT seems to be a maturation of that instrumental experimentation melded with their decades of producing quality songs where the vocals were the feature. In this album, vocals certainly take front and centre being less obscured by static or distortion and more strengthened and enhanced by it.
This gets me onto genres. After listening to Low’s three title tracks prior to album release, I was scratching my head over the allocation of indie rock as a genre by some, when their music carries so much more. It weaves in and out of alt rock, electronica, ambient, industrial, folk, indie and more. They tap into the creative styles of artists like Bjork, Bent and Aphex twin. They have no genre in my mind, or they have them all. it’s genre bending at its finest. Listening to the whole album I felt a bit like Bilbo Baggins as he joyfully skips away from the Shire exclaiming ‘I’m going on an ADVENTURE’, there’s just so much to take in.
My first crush on the album was the uplifting sound of ‘Disappearing’ with lyrics that threw me into my imagination. There are style hints of Peter Gabriel’s ‘Us’ and it inflicts the same power and gravitas with its static bass and enchanting vocals. It also reminds me a little of Icelandic artist Asgeir’s ‘Torrent’ but with a beard and testicles.
Speaking of testicles, Sparhawk continues to demonstrates some stunning vocal elasticity in this album. Holding those notes effortlessly, his voice is at times almost angelic, and coupled with Mimi’s smooth and perfectly synchronised accompaniment they can have you enthralled.
‘Hey’ has hints of Kate Bush’s style, then moves into other worldly instrumentals which are complimented, nay, caressed by the satin like sound of Sparhawk’s voice. I really like some of the electronic sounds they pop in there too creating a sci-fi movie theme song kinda feel.
‘Days Like These’ which initially made me jump and wake up a bit, unfolds into a choir of [two] voices, haunting guitar chords lingering in the air and a melody that provokes hope and sadness all at the same time. After about two and half minutes it becomes sombre and reflective. Again some great instrumental, which is just lovely to listen to. Plus I allowed myself to watch the video and it really sucks you in.
Generally I was really into this album and feel happy that Picky Bastards introduced me to it. What I didn’t like though was the prolonged use of repetitive synthetic sound (sorry). It is something that upsets me on a biological level. Like dairy, or people who can’t reverse. This repetitive brain stabbing sound is found at the end of and leading into some of the tracks, as well as all on ‘There’s a Comma After A’ which is a bit of a turn off for me. ‘Wild Horses’ which is a strong and defiant song, in places is utterly beautiful, but is tainted a little for me by the ending, and maybe beginning too. Sometimes I skip past the uncomfortable bits. Admittedly though when I have let it play through it does blend well into the next track ‘I Can Wait’ – a small peppy song that feels very much a testament to Low’s ability to work as a duet and still be awesome when using minimalist sounds.
Despite my dislike of repetition, I’m a bit like Joey that time Rachel from FRIENDS made minced meat trifle, I can appreciate its creativity and uniqueness whilst huffing it down greedily asking for more.
This album on the whole has really impacted me. I had to listen to it three times before it properly infiltrated my brain. Songs like ‘More’ and ‘Disappear’ were obvious choices to swoon over but then other songs crept up on me and played over in my mind such as ‘All night’ and ‘don’t walk away’. The latter of which hit me right in the feels and had me contemplating who it was about.
I think I love this album. I think you might too if you give it a chance. Listen to it no less than three times, in full, before forming an opinion. Each song is its own distinctive ear worm. It’s not another double negative, but nor is it a return to their previous state. This album is a transition from one state of being to another. They were caterpillars, ‘Double Negative’ was the chrysalis, and HEY WHAT, is the sexy sexy butterfly at the end.
Enjoy my friends, you’re going on an ADVENTURE.
Words by Tamara Greaves