Founded back in 1993, the acclaimed Duluth-based indie act and JOVM mainstays Low — married couple Alan Sparhawk (guitar, vocals) and Mimi Parker (drums) — are considered pioneers of slowcore, an indie rock sub-genre featuring slowed down tempos and minimalist-leaning arrangements. During their nearly 20 year run, the band has gone through a number of lineup changes; but one thing has been consistent — they’ve disapproved of the term slowcore. And gradually, the band has managed to shrug off the sub-genre’s strictures altogether.
2015’s B.J. Burton-produced Ones and Sixes began an ongoing series of uncompromising and challenging material. With the critical success of Ones and Sixes, the members of Low wanted to go further with Burton and his aesthetic, to see what someone, who as Sparhawk has described as a “hip-hop guy” could do to push their music in radically new directions. Working with Burton has resulted in a completely different creative process: Instead of obsessively writing, revising and rehearsing in Duluth, before heading to the studio, the band went to Eau Claire, WI with rough ideas and sketches for one of the most collaborative writing sessions they’ve ever had with a producer.
During the Double Negative sessions, they’d build pieces up, break them down and build them up again until each individual song found its purpose and force. Over the two year writing and recording sessions, the outside world slid deeper into madness and instability — and in some fashion Double Negative may be seen as a document of our peculiar moment: the material is at times loud, contentious, chaotic and jarring. Sparhawk’s and Parker’s gorgeous harmonies sometimes seem to be desperately fighting against the noise and chaos, other times hidden with it.
The acclaimed Duluth-based JOVM mainstay’s 13th album HEY WHAT is out right now. Continuing their ongoing collaboration with B.J. Burton, the album finds Sparhawk and Parker focusing on their craft, staying out of the fray and holding fast to their faith to find new ways to express the discord and delight of being a living human being, to the turn the duality of existence into modern day hymns we can share. The album’s 10 songs are individually built by their own undeniable hooks — but they’re turbocharged by the vivid textures surrounding them.
Over the past few months, I’ve written about three of the album’s previously released singles:
- “Days Like These,” a disorientating track featuring hushed passages with strummed guitar fighting for space between dense layers of noise and distortion that accrete and then fall apart. The entire affair is held together by Sparkhawk and Parker’s gorgeous and slightly Autotuned harmonies, serving as a lifeline from the shore, thrown out to the poor soul just about to drown in the breakers. At its core, “Days Like These” is a yearning plea for meaning and peace in a world that’s completely mad and doesn’t make much sense.
- “Disappearing,” a meditative slow-burn centered around ebbing and waning feedback and distortion. Sparhawk’s and Parker’s yearning harmonies ride the uneasy crests and valleys of the song’s oceanic-like production. The song is an an aching meditation of loneliness, isolation and the unknown beyond all of this.
- “More,” a disorientating track featuring heavily distorted and scorching power chords paired with Parker’s gorgeous lead vocal turn, singing lyrics expressing frustration while yearning — and demanding — more in a world that’s grossly unfair and inequitable.
HEY WHAT‘s fourth and latest single, album opener “White Horses” continues a remarkable run of material that’s purposefully challenging, abrasive and uneasy yet breathtakingly gorgeous. With “White Hoses” Sparhawk’s and Parker’s gorgeous harmonies floating over scorching synth fuzz and feedback with bursts of shimmering strings peeking out. The song ends with pulsating and undulating synth tones — that may remind those children of the 80s and older of a busy tone on a dial-tone phone. (Sorry sir, the line is busy; it’s the end of the world, after all!)
Directed by Shane Donahue, the recently released video for “White Horses” features grainy tape-hiss fueled footage of wild horses on the plains.