Low - Double Negative - Albums - Reviews - Soundblab

Low - Double Negative

by Sean Hewson Rating:9 Release Date:2018-09-14
Low - Double Negative
Low - Double Negative

Double Negative is Low’s twelfth studio album in 25 years. As with their previous album (Ones and Sixes), it was produced by BJ Burton and recorded at Justin Vernon’s studio in Eau Claire, Wisconsin. The album was more of a collaborative, written-in-the-studio affair than previous records.

Quorum, one of the songs released ahead of the album, starts with static noise, then cut-up music, then cut-up vocals. There’s a real song under there but it sounds more haunting and disembodied like this. There is a moment of quiet when the skeleton of a song appears. Then the noise returns, this time Alan Sparhawk’s vocal is clearer. It reminds me somewhat of Witch House. A pounding sound begins Dancing and Blood. Mimi Parker’s vocal is also disembodied. This time it reminds me of the exceptional work that is done with sound (not music) in modern horror films. The melody also reminds me of Abba. Again, the song breaks down; this time to a single note and then a second, deeper, note. And this is how the final few minutes of the song play out until the build-up to Fly begins. The sound palette remains the same but Parker’s vocal is crystal clear and as faultless as ever. So far, you’d be hard-pressed to work out, vocals aside, which instrument was played by which band member and I rather feel that this is the point.

Tempest is a soup of weird sounds and disembodied voices that could be the work of a much younger band, such is the desire to break away from set structures. Sparhawk’s guitar can be heard faintly in the distance but it is drowned out by distorted voices. It’s fascinating that a band so renowned for the beauty of their solo and group vocals has decided to destroy them so completely. The noise subsides and the calming opening chords of Always Up start up. The group vocals here are clear and beautiful, before Parker takes the lead backed by just a keyboard. The full band appear to be playing on Always Trying To Work It Out, albeit heavily manipulated. The song too is pretty straight. It’s the clearest view that we get of the working process – how the recorded sounds are then worked on again by producer and band. The Son, The Sun is pure sound manipulation. As a long-time fan of William Basinski, I find this kind of stuff very calming. Acoustic instruments can be heard on Dancing and Fire and the vocals are strong and clear. Aside from being quite lovely, these quiet moments reassure me that I haven’t been handed a destroyed copy of the album as a test. Jokes on you, I like destroyed music. The song (as do most songs here) segues into the next song. Poor Sucker is a combination of the two currents – a clear song and vocal riding on top of a swamp of noise. Rome (Always in the Dark) feels like it was originally quite a big song. It’s melodically the most immediate on the album. The final track, Disarray, is a pulsing, pounding track with clear vocals. Again, it’s quite an immediate tune but, pleasingly, fades out with manipulated sound,

Listening to Double Negative, I am reminded of the work of Richard Youngs where traditional song-forms and avant-garde thinking are made to co-habit peacefully. Also the work of sound manipulators like Leyland Kirby and William Basinski. Even Radiohead of Kid A, where they totally redefined themselves. I didn’t hear the last Low album so I can’t say if this is a sudden change of direction or the expansion of some ideas that appeared in Ones and Sixes. Whatever the answer, they have arrived at a place where only a handful of other artists have, especially not after 25 years: You honestly don’t know what’s coming next and it’s an exciting feeling. Also, I have no idea how they will perform it live on their tour this year or if they even feel the need to. Hats off to Low and BJ Burton, they’re investigating new territory and reporting back. The cover art, by Peter Liversidge, is also brilliant.

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