Every week, the Music Directors of Whitman radio station KWCW 90.5 FM Walla Walla work to find the hottest new music for their DJ’s shows. Each of them selects and reviews new records from the CD pile, making sure the station has access to top-notch music that everyone can enjoy, especially the loyal listeners.
Low, particularly notable for 90’s indie essentials such as “I Could Live in Hope” (1994) and “The Curtain Hits the Cast” (1996), released their newest album last Friday. This time around, Low hit a point between cold restraint and intense intimacy for just the right amount of emotional and cultural impact, even if it is not their best release by far.
‘90s and ‘00s indie fanatics remember the classic Minnesotan trio Low fondly, but recent years have been a little different. After bringing the haunting atmospheric genre later called “slowcore” to the forefront of indie music, the band experimented with more earthy and warm sounds upon joining Sub Pop. This only led to a jarring thrust back to icy soundscapes with the 2015 album “Ones and Sixes.”
Though that album seemed well below the precedent set the band’s previous work, Low returns to “Ones and Sixes” producer BJ Burton to further expound on the sorrow of the group’s roots. In “Double Negative,” the band furthers the descent into brooding, otherworldly noise created by doubling down on their use of glitchy electronic pulses and glistening vocal effects.
The album unfolds in a musically unsettling fashion that will no doubt divide the fanbase and the unwary listeners alike. Despite accurately portraying the chilly, somber mood of the band’s past, Low’s husband-and-wife duo of Mimi Parker and Alan Sparhawk have since graduated from guitar-bass-drums to something far less earthbound. Every electronic sound imaginable, from ethereal keyboards to throbbing beat to sheer noise, is utilized in the “Double Negative” soundbank (sometimes all at once, like on the excellent standout track “Rome”).
Interestingly, the album works far better as a bitter product of 2018 than anything else. “Double Negative” is, for the most part, neither fun nor easy to listen to. Rather, it reflects the insanity of the modern world, the struggle of the planet to keep everything from falling apart. The band’s classic contrasts of silence and noise highlight these concepts clearly, even without the listener understanding the lyrics due to near constant uses of Auto-Tune and distortion. Elements lost in the blur of songs like “Dancing and Blood” are recaptured by the relative clarity of “Always Up,” ultimately representing the album as a whole rather than a collection of songs.
Low have never shied away from going against the grain, and this is evident as a high point in that respect. Eras of great emotional disconnect are often accompanied by such bold soundtracks to the apocalypse. The challenging nature of the album’s entirety leaves “Double Negative” as average for Low’s output, but it remains an essential of the darkness of 2018.