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Low – HEY WHAT

It’s only February, and I’ve already heard a handful of stunning new albums this year, but I only just got a chance to listen to last year’s Low LP. I can’t stop thinking about it. Since this is my blog, I can cover whatever I damn well please, so we’re jumping back to November of 2021 for a bit. If you missed this record when it came out, then I’m certain you won’t mind the trip.

Low has been arranging patient, gorgeous harmonies since the early ’90s. Things We Lost In The Fire, from 2001, still holds up as a watershed moment, burgeoning with spare, beautiful tunes that cut straight to the heart, even when they’re shrouded in mystery. There’s an earnest connection that pushes through even their most abstract lyrics.

Surprising pretty much everyone, they broke radical new ground with their heavily distorted 2018 album, Double Negative, an angry & bewildered response to the ascent of our 45th president. It was ripped to shreds in a way that actually felt shocking. But where that record was bashed to bits from top to bottom, HEY WHAT harnesses disorienting sounds that lie beneath the duo’s unaltered vocals. For much of the journey, undulating noise and chopped up instrumentation form rhythmic backgrounds without any audible percussion. The pair’s first LP without a bassist mostly eschews Mimi’s drum set as well, but the music still surges forward.

Their lyrics have always felt like fuzzy silhouettes that suggest more than they tell, but here the unending onslaught of contemporary anxiety dominates the record: the climate catastrophe has arrived; a pandemic besets the globe; there’s a new & terrible headline every morning. Low sum it up simply, “when you think you’ve seen everything / you’ll find we’re living in days like these.”

Low have always maintained a high bar, but it’s nonetheless remarkable to hear them, 13 albums in, continuing to both refine their craft and renew it too.

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