Immerse yourself in their sea of uneasiness

Low comprise (from far left) Steve Garrington, Mimi Parker and Alan Sparhawk.
Low comprise (from far left) Steve Garrington, Mimi Parker and Alan Sparhawk.PHOTO: SUB POP

As any fastidious grammarian would tell you, double negatives are strongly discouraged. A double negative happens when two forms of negation are present in a sentence, which logically means turning the idea into a positive one. Get it?

Still confused? This is probably why Low, the Duluth, Minnesota stalwarts, have named their 12th album after it. Commemorating their 25th anniversary, the album should be cause for celebration, if not for the fact that it is also produced in the thick and thin of the toxic American political climate permeated by "fake news" and fearmongering.

It is the ambiguity which makes Double Negative such a game-changer and an urgent response to a beleaguered society.

The last track, Disarray, is an unlikely jeremiad. "The truth is not something that you have not heard," the husband-and-wife team of Alan Sparhawk and Mimi Parker chant over squelchy drums. "This evil spirit, man, it's bringing me down," goes a refrain.

This sea of uneasiness is thanks to brilliant producer BJ Burton (James Blake, Bon Iver), who injected hiss and distortion into the slowcore DNA of Low on their last and acclaimed record, Ones And Sixes (2015).

He ups the ante this time with full-blown contrarian sounds which undercut and intersect. Whereas Low used to exist in a rarefied ether, far removed from the madding crowd, here, they find themselves confronted with the phantasmagoria of reality.

  • Low comprise (from far left) Steve Garrington, Mimi Parker and Alan Sparhawk.




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At the same time, they have carved out a sanctuary suspended in mid-air - a glassy membrane through which they can see clearly the terrible destruction.

The opening track, Quorum, is caught in rapid eye movement between awakening and deep sleep. The melody frays majestically, with glimpses of clarity. Vocals are cut up and fleeting, occasionally bursting forth like conscience. "I'm tired of seeing things/You put away the book/What are you waiting for?" sings Sparhawk, although it may well be Parker too.

A thick fog pervades Dancing And Blood. You strain your ears to pick out the salvo of staccato phrases: "What could I say?/Taken aback/All that you gave/Wasn't enough."

Other times, they implode a song from within. Tempest is a missive from a Lynchian purgatory, the line between sense and nonsense blown away. Bassist/synth-wizard Steve Garrington drenches the song with white noise, yet you espy an undercurrent of melancholy. "Their sad eye/There I lied/All people cry?/There to glare," goes an apparent lyric.

By abandoning the usual feel-good hearth of acoustic instrumentation and going for the inexorable march of industrial technology, Low issue a warning to humanity at the cusp of a civilisation meltdown. Take heed.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 20, 2018, with the headline 'Immerse yourself in their sea of uneasiness'. Print Edition | Subscribe