A stark retreat from the relatively sunny sound of The Great Destroyer, Drums and Guns is, as its title suggests, inspired by the war in Iraq. True to the spirit of Low's other work, the outrage and regret expressed by these songs is just as timeless as it is timely, lamenting that war still exists as much as it addresses this particular war. And, while Drums and Guns' emotions and lyrics are complex (and on songs like "Murderer," with its "seems like you could use another fool," they don't pull any punches), its sound is often devastatingly spare and simple. It's almost hard to believe that the band worked with David Fridmann on this album as well as The Great Destroyer -- where that album was lush and overflowing with sonic tangents, Drums and Guns' sound is raw and restricted to just a few key sounds that underscore its themes. Fittingly, most of the album emphasizes percussion; whether it's the martial-yet-jazzy beat that drives "Sandinista" or the somber, almost industrial thud of "Dragonfly," this approach keeps the songs intimate, powerful, and uniquely modern-sounding. Organ also plays a key role on Drums and Guns, particularly on "Breaker," where it magnifies the anguish of lyrics like "my hand just kills and kills," and "Violent Past," where its massive sound closes the album by swallowing the listener in a cathedral of distortion. Aside from this song and the similarly epic "In Silence," most of Drums and Guns is gently but insistently tense, like a nagging conscience: "Take Your Time"'s looped church bells and "Belarus"' ghostly harmonies are bleakly, uncompromisingly beautiful. Low lightens up a little on the album's middle stretch, with "Hatchet," a plea for peace that's surprisingly playful ("let's bury the hatchet like the Beatles and the Stones"), and "Dust on the Window," where Mimi Parker's sweet voice sounds inherently comforting even as she wonders, "where can a girl get a meal?" Despite these bright spots, this is easily -- and understandably -- Low's darkest album since Trust. Unlike that album, however, Drums and Guns never feels dragged down by its weighty subject matter. It's a lean, potent work, and even if it's not one of Low's most superficially pleasant collections of songs, it's certainly among their most necessary ones.
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AllMusic Review by Heather Phares