LOW – Double Negative

With Double Negative, LOW give you the tempest – the here, the now, the fear, the wonder – and they do it uncompromisingly

Album Review by Fraser MacIntyre | 13 Sep 2018
Album title: Double Negative
Artist: LOW
Label: Sub Pop
Release date: 14 Sep

In their 25th year, LOW – influential masters of intimate grandeur – have eschewed a comfortable victory lap and instead propelled themselves into unchartered and unstable terrain with poignant results that simultaneously soothe and disarm.

Written sporadically in Wisconsin as Trump fever and its repercussions engulfed America, Double Negative doesn’t primarily capture the relentless chaos of the present through words, though 'I thought we had it made up / After all we had to pay up' certainly channels a helplessness and disillusionment familiar to many. Instead, what makes this record so capable of resonating with our overstimulated selves is the juxtaposition between stolen moments of serenity and sudden jolts of disorientating ferocity employed throughout.

LOW give you the tempest – the here, the now, the fear, the wonder – and they do it uncompromisingly. Waves of distortion assault the listener from the beginning of Quorum and barely let up; though the familiar, ethereal grace found in husband and wife Alan Sparhawk and Mimi Parker’s harmonies remain untarnished. Drowned out from time to time by abrasiveness, they do not allow their harsh surroundings to swallow or diminish them, thus giving each moment of reprieve a moving and provocative sense of resilience. Double Negative is not an overtly political call-to-arms, nor does it offer blissful escape. Instead, we are encouraged to endure its (and arguably our own) static with open eyes, to be sure we don’t miss something vital.

BJ Burton (James Blake) returns after producing the trio for the first time on their reinvigorating 2015 effort Ones and Sixes, and his influence has only become more profound now that Sparhawk, Parker and bassist Steve Garrington have embraced him as a co-writer. The foreboding beats that added fresh sonic intrigue three years ago are almost tame in comparison to the experimentation found on Tempest, the first half of which sounds exactly as the title would suggest.

Lashings of distortion threaten to wreak havoc throughout the blissful meditation of Always Trying to Work It Out. Elsewhere, Poor Sucker merges tense instrumentation with a commanding hook, the brooding stomp of Rome (Always in the Dark) is nigh on unstoppable and Parker’s haunting, understated vocal rests on a knife-edge between tranquillity and righteous anger throughout Dancing and Blood as Sparhawk’s guitar shudders and Burton’s production shines.

LOW have taken the opportunity for nostalgia as encouragement to challenge both themselves and their fanbase. Double Negative is a magnificent and courageous record, if you’re ready for it.

Listen to: Poor Sucker, Dancing and Blood, Disarray