Double Negative

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On their 2015 album Ones and Sixes, Low worked with producer BJ Burton, who helped the slowcore icons create an album that balanced the warmth of their harmonies against the cool, polished surfaces of electronic sound that dominated the arrangements. If the pairing didn't always seem a comfortable fit, that hasn't stopped Low from returning to the studio with Burton and making an album that dives further into an electronic netherworld than Ones and Sixes ever suggested. Released in 2018, Double Negative often processes Mimi Parker and Alan Sparhawk's vocals to the point where they function more as instruments than as carriers of language or human emotions (though Parker's organic instrument does get a showcase on "Fly" and "Always Up"), and their surroundings are usually layers of sculpted noise that sound utterly alien, as if this were some sort of aural exercise in dystopian science fiction. From the first moments of "Quorum," which suggests a hellish soundscape trapped in a locked vinyl groove, to the final abrasive pulse of "Disarray," this music confronts the listener on a level Low have never attempted before. Then again, as a work reflecting a world in chaos and a time when the line between truth and lies has been blurred into insignificance, Double Negative is in many respects a worthy reflection of its era, the sound of humanity struggling to be heard in the midst of punishing discord and alien static. Double Negative is a much more challenging listen than Ones and Sixes, but what makes it difficult also gives it a greater sense of purpose than the previous album. However, one failing that works against these songs is that the vocals are frequently Auto-Tuned and digitally fractured to the point that they're genuinely unintelligible (especially Sparhawk's), and while the sound of this album communicates powerfully in itself, the finer points of what Low are trying to say in these songs is sometimes lost. Despite this, Double Negative is a brave and thoughtful collection of songs that lets Low's beating heart scream for its life against a world without compassion, and if it isn't much fun, in 2018 it's truly necessary.

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