Low are a group which seem to have inspired total indifference from most of the general public, but great adoration from a handful of fans; with few people feeling somewhere in between. That said, Robert Plant has covered them, they’ve supported Radiohead on tour and their career now stretches two decades.
This, their eleventh album, sees a new sound for them which sounds classically ‘Low’, but draws heavily on the electronic-based ‘Drums and Guns’, as well as the more bombastic change of direction that ‘The Great Destroyer’ and its more pop-orientated moments.
Their last LP, ‘The Invisible Way’, frames them at their most skeletal, leaving some of the songs feeling a little limp due to a dull production style. ‘Ones and Sixes’ has a far more interesting production style, which uses acoustic instruments alongside textural elements and encroaching drum machines, creating a very three-dimensional sound which makes it sound far more strident than their last.
‘Gentle’ opens the album with a lurching electronic drum loop underpinning glacial effects and the couple’s trademark harmonies; Sparhawk’s guitar taking several minutes to even appear. ‘No Comprende’ feels so tightly wound with its insistent, nervous guitars, but in practice it never actually fully releases the tension it builds up, making it one of their more subtly intense tracks in a way which their early LPs often are.
‘Gentle’ and the likes of ‘Congregation’ have a very subtle quality to them which makes them difficult to read. They feel like Low being ambiguous, a slight sense of ease-inducing without the outright intensity or beauty that the album in other places has.
The comparisons with 2005’s ‘The Great Destroyer’ are most notable on Low’s more commercially appealing numbers. ‘What Part of Me’ is a classic Low-pop duet between Sparhawk and Parker exploring the nature of a long term relationship; in this vein ‘Kid in the Corner’ has a more driving beat and ‘80s guitar sound but doesn’t hit the same heights as the former.
‘Lies’ is another where Sparhawk seems to explore a relationship, admitting in the dying moments of the song ‘I should be sleeping by your lonely side, instead of working of this song all night’, his voice audibly cracking.
Then ‘Landslide’, with Sparhawk’s vocals fiery and direct at first backed by sparse guitar before taking off into an incendiary, propulsive section, the guitar thick and distorted. The darkness collapses fades into beautiful harmonies, clocking in at nearly 10 minutes, one of the finest they’ve ever recorded. Closer ‘DJ’ combines twinkling guitar with blurry reverse effects and an insistent thud, along with the vocals giving it an uneasy and hypnotic feeling.
‘Ones and Sixes’ is one of Low’s most difficult to decipher. It’s a varied release with some career highlights, many of the songs making a lot of sense in the context of the album. Much of it feels like the band at their most innovative, but at other times they revert to a tried and tested formula, giving it an even more jarring feel.
Low ‘Ones and Sixes’ is out now
Words from Connor Browne