One of the most popular acts to come out of the land of 10,000 lakes, Low has been playing around with the idea of music since the 90’s, and has come back with a fabulous follow-up album a few months ago. Duluth, Minnesota has played a big part in my life, and has played host to this group as well. I believe this has to do with the soul of the city, and the iconic landscape that inspires art. Low seems to agree, with their last single “Not A Word” including a short piece about how the region inspires their sound. Allan Sparhawk and his long time partner, Mimi Parker, make up the core of the group, which originally formed with bassist John Nichols. He would go on to leave the group after the first album, being replaced by Zak Sally, then Matt Livingston. The group put out their first self titled EP on Australian based Summershine records. This short collection was a nice little disrupter in the slowcore scene, especially for its two niche categories: EPs and being from 1994. All that seems to be left of this EP are the first four tracks appearing on their next two albums.
Originally on Vernon Yard Recordings, they quickly jumped ship before Virgin Records took full control of the small Indie label. During their time with Virgin, we got the groups first album, I Could Live in Hope, which were developed in conjunction with their first EP. The next two were similar in composition and theme, with 1995’s Long Division being the setup that next year’s The Curtain Hits the Cast. This record was the groups first footing, getting a lot of airplay on college radio and developing a following during tour.
Low has released many singles and EP’s that talking about all of them would make this reviewer very tired, but some of the most important ones would have to be “Over the Ocean” (single), Exit Papers (EP), and “Not a Word/I Won’t Let You” (split single with S. Carey). The latter was one of the first vinyls I reviewed, and here’s an excerpt:
“This collection by Low brings together the talents of Duluth, Minnesota locals Alan Sparhawk and Mimi Parker. But what brings this album to the next level is Sean Carey of Bon Iver. He lends his voice to the atmospheric rhythm that Low is known for. For me, this record sounds like Duluth. It’s put best in the words of Steve Marsh on the sleeve of the record. “Think about the small ocean that confronts Alan Sparhawk and Mimi Parker every morning from their front porch in Duluth. They call this ocean lake Superior.” The soft tones of this album make for easy listening. Owning this feels more like a work of art with the way it is packaged and the almost-clear 10″ vinyl record.”
The groups first single, “Over the Ocean”, which was taken off The Curtain Hits the Cast. Arguably the most important one, this song is what launched their careers and got albums selling. The Exit Papers were my first introduction to the group. A truly bizarre piece consisting of 6 untitled tracks, and is described by the band as a soundtrack to an imaginary film”. They even ran with this idea, pitching it to movie executives.
Being with Sub Pop records since The Great Destroyer in 2005, the group has treaded further and further into the mainstream, with the previously mentioned album peaking at number 13 on US chart Heatseekers Ray LaMontagne. Drums and Guns, C’mon, The Invisible Way, and Ones and Sixes were all released on Sub Pop, but never reached the heights of Great Destroyer. Generally finding airplay in Minnesota and in the Indie scene, None of them broke charts. C’mon was the shortest record on Sub Pop, but included contributions from members of the Trans Siberian Orchestra and Nels Cline of Wilco. Their next album, The Invisible Way, was also connected to Wilco, being produced by Jeff Tweedy and recorded at their studio in Chicago in 2012. Their contributions continue onto 2015’s Ones and Sixes with Glenn Kotche adding drums. Unfortunately, all of this only lead to the album peaking at 158 on Billboard Top 200.
Released not even a full month before this review’s publication, Double Negative is a real experience on vinyl. Three years off the groups last release, that time certainly allowed them to do as they do best. It’s entirely experimental and plays with what we call music in a interesting way. Specifically on vinyl, the beginning plays with your head, and creates the illusion that the track is skipping, just before the vocals enter, almost as if from behind the blinds of the noise. The group has always played with this, but by their ninth album they have honed it so well.
Bass flutist Maaika Von Adler Linde, who has worked with The Nationals in the past, adds depth to the song “Always Up”. The ending to the A side, it feels like saying “always keep your head up, no matter how tough it gets.” as you say goodbye.
Good old black polyvinyl chloride seems to be the theme of the last three months, but it hasn’t been intentional. Though visually this may not be as impressive, the overall composition of the package is neat, with three colors used throughout: pink, white, and black. The cover fits it perfectly, the chunk of black plastic on the pink Background is mysterious and difficult to understand what it came from, a lot like their music. The color pink is also a nice choice with the similarities it draws too: being loud and proud yet soft and muted.
My final review of Double Negative by indie darlings Low, incredibly positive. A great addition to any expanding collection and a must have for those in the experimental music scene. As always, shop local, keep spinning, and this review wasn’t late, you were.