With the molasses-slow ringing of the opening chords of "Violence," Low arrived. The Duluth, Minnesota band had formed two years earlier in 1993, and issued its quietly joyful debut, I Could Live in Hope, in the interim, but sophomore record Long Division saw the band stripping down its already unprecedentedly spare instrumentation to create an atmosphere so lonely, patient, and narcotic that the album created the sensation of being awake in a sad-hearted dream. On their debut, Low's sound was informed by their minimal instrumentation, with guitar, high-register bass notes, and a two-piece drum kit providing the backdrop for Alan Sparhawk and Mimi Parker's angelic harmonies and Kramer's spacious production. The songs on Long Division take that minimalism even further, slowing the tempos and implementing so much negative space that the instruments sometimes fade into complete silence in the space between sparse notes or drum hits. The otherworldly slowness of songs like "Shame" and "See-Through" are representative of the radical amount of space that defines the album, gliding gracefully as a falling leaf floating slowly on the wind. Low were born out of a reaction to the aggressive trudge of early-'90s grunge, so the songs are slow but never plodding. A song like "Turn" begins with a somewhat menacing lurch, but slowly blooms into a mysteriously hopeful climax. Contemporaries like Red House Painters and especially Codeine worked in similar muted colors and pensive tempos, but Low managed to exist outside of the often depressive themes of their peers. Practicing Mormons, Sparhawk and Parker often intoned their understated songs with vaguely religious undertones, hinting at retribution and redemption with foreboding atmospheres and heavy vibes more than overtly cautionary lyrics. The combination of Low's groundbreaking approach to elongating traditional pop music structures paired with Kramer's equally extreme reverb and Echoplex colorings congeal into one of Low's most brilliantly atmospheric statements, and perhaps the most dire in what would be a career that spanned decades. Long Division is a masterwork, somehow simultaneously achieving lushness and emptiness, embodying hope and heartbroken despair with equal force.
Long Division Review
by Fred Thomas