Lucid look at what makes people click

Add the letter "s" to their band name and, presto, you get "slow" - a term so apropos in describing the tempo of the Duluth, Minnesota trio, one doesn't blink.

That, however, would be short-changing them, and I regard them as the sonic equivalent of the late, great, reclusive American poet Jack Gilbert.

They don't overwrite. They aren't after the cliched payoffs of success, such as money or fame. They chip away at stone to get to a deeper, more transcendental truth, but what is it? You need to live life and be open to glean it.

At the core of Low is the husband-and-wife team of Alan Sparhawk and Mimi Parker, who, like The Killers' frontman Brandon Flowers, are Mormons, but defy all the stereotypes. After all, they rock hardest while not making a fuss of it. They move in slow motion, but you sense the little earthquakes.

Their 11th record in two decades, Ones And Sixes is a mature, lucid-eyed dissection of long-term relationships, especially that of a couple who now have teenage children.




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It's a constant dialogue between two middle-aged individuals, replete with gaps and misunderstandings. Marriage is hard work and no one has the magic bullet.

Recorded in the Wisconsin studio of Justin Vernon (Bon Iver), the songs breathe and bristle, quest and question.

Featuring relative newcomer Steve Garrington on bass, they probe and uncover new insights into what makes humans click. They work by counterpointing, seeing the light in dark and vice versa.

For instance, the song Kid In The Corner sounds chipper. An insistent guitar riff shores up bouncy electro squiggles and you discern an incremental anxiety that belies the rhyming lines: "We couldn't wait any longer/We couldn't get through the border."

And pray tell, who is "the kid in the corner"?

The words may be stark, but they could mean many things. One of these things is the plight of Syrian refugees; families desperately on the move, harassed at the Hungarian border, senses frayed, but still hopeful of a better future.

At times, the music even sounds Old Testament. The Innocents channel the come-hell-or-high water vision of rock messiahs Nick Cave and Johnny Cash, but without hitting your head with the tome. "All you innocents, better run for it," they sing, as industrial hooves clatter closer and closer.

No Comprende has a similar build-up. Fuelled by inchoate dread, the couple engage in verbal sparring: "You hands were tied/I know I do not know the language." Guitars snarl menacingly like lupine threats in the dark, waiting to prance.

Such is the porous nature of their words. What Part Of Me is similarly distilled, parsed to a thumping bassline and an electric guitar riff reverberating like the first sign of a tornado.

"What part of me don't you own?" Parker and Sparhawk sing in unison, but whether it's to each other is a moot point. It may well be an allusion to Sparhawk's on-off struggle with depression.

"Sometimes, it scares me to death," they conclude. You get the chills.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 16, 2015, with the headline 'Lucid look at what makes people click'. Print Edition | Subscribe