The search for beauty in dark times may require extra effort, but it is all the more rewarding when it emerges. When your understanding of your country is skewed by events beyond your control, how do you channel that into art? Is it as simple as writing a set of protest songs or is there another way? For Low, it would seem there is. As the creators of some of the most beautiful music of the past twenty-five years, the wilful mangling of melody that lies at the heart of ‘Double Negative’ is a remarkably powerful reaction and a deeply moving listen.
If ever an album was built to make a mockery of the stream once and tweet era, it was this one. Those accustomed to the majestic delights of ‘Try To Sleep’, ‘So Blue’ and ‘Lies’ from their most recent albums will likely find initial listens to ‘Double Negative’ pretty hard going. While hints of this sound were there on 2015’s ‘Ones And Sixes’, the rolling distortion of opener ‘Quorum’, overloaded fragments of ‘Tempest’ and flutter of ‘Poor Sucker’ are immediately unsettling. These songs seem ugly, wearing their pain and destruction with purpose. A raw, emotional core slowly seeps out as the disruption becomes normalised.
The aforementioned ‘Quorum’ is a brutal introduction, its title a term for the minimum number of people required to validate actions taken by a group. The combined voices of Sparhawk and Mimi Parker are subsumed by shredding bass, Parker in particular sounding like she’s at war with white noise. The struggle and determination, fighting one’s own, is captivating. ‘Always Trying To Work It Out’ is curiously euphoric, the pitch-shifted chorus line a more delicate form of manipulation. “It’s not the end, it’s just the end of hope” Alan Sparhawk forlornly proclaims on ‘Dancing And Fire’, before this vocal is also pulled down to subterranean levels.
Closer ‘Disarray’ blends hopeful harmonies with a marauding pulse and an anxious beat, offering a degree of resolution, but not quite curing the music of the disease that infected its fibre. “The truth is now something that you have not heard” rises out of the somewhat heightened delivery, placatory sweeping harmonies yielding to more crunching rhythm. ‘Double Negative’ is a quite stunning artistic statement, one which at first seems like it might just be admired rather than enjoyed. But, given time, the scale of Low’s achievement reveals itself. A dystopian masterpiece.
Words: Gareth James
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