Low - Ones and Sixes (SubPop)

Almost 25 years into their career, the US alt. rock veterans sound as vital as ever

Released Sep 11th, 2015 via Sub Pop / By Richard Lewis
Low - Ones and Sixes (SubPop) With a prolific work rate of eleven albums in 22 years (not including a score of EPs), US alt. rock trio Low have become one of the most venerated bands in the North American independent scene.

Where much of the group's catalogue revolves around massive reverberating guitar figures and simple metronomic drumbeats, Ones and Sixes sees the band expand their instrumental range, retaining the same unhurried pace of old with the addition of underscoring synth parts adds a chilly, wintertide atmosphere to the material.

At the top of the album the opening patter of 'Gentle' is a tense showcase in hold and release dynamics that threatens to burst into something far louder, the mix accentuating the volume swells of the low-lying synth foundation.

Creating tracks from subtle weaves of synth, vocal harmonies and melodic embellishments on guitar or piano, 'Congregation' consists of not much more than a soft drum machine loop, restrained guitar feedback and tip-toeing bassline that gives full reign to Mimi Sparhawk’s voice. Similarly, the gospel inspired melody of 'Into You' finds the singer backed by her own deep harmonies, a heartbeat bass drum pulse, hushed synth keys and little else.

Exhibitions in solid songcraft, the muted guitar thrum of 'No Comprende' interlaces a subtle Alan Sparhawk sung vocal hook into the fabric, complemented by Mimi’s counter-melody, while 'No End', a sunburst chord sequence redolent of Neil Young overlaid with warm harmonies almost edges into classic rock.

'What Part Of Me', its title forming part of the questioning/accusatory chorus lyric ‘...don’t you know/What part of me don’t you want?’ is low-key synth pop, its guitar and fizzing electronics recalling The Radio Dept. The trio’s diversion into slightly poppier climes shouldn’t come as a complete surprise given their stunning show-closing encore of Rihanna track 'Stay' on their last tour.

Placed back to back, ‘The Innocents’ and ‘The Kid in the Corner’ both constructed around chorus pedal guitar lines and the Sparhawks’ harmonies are exemplary demonstrations in the band's much heralded skill in mining the maximum amount out of the sparest elements.

Heading into the final quarter, mini-novella ‘Lies’, gives way to 'Landslide' the darkest moment here, a funereal almost spoken word piece that develops into a ravaged bare-bones blues Nick Cave would be proud of. With lyrics that seem to exhort a kind of primal therapy ‘let it all out/scream til you bleed’, the tension builds before the pressure is released and massed choral singing sees the track drift into calmer waters then bowing out in a wave of feedback. A monumental cut that will doubtless take on titanic proportions live, the song will be surely be a future highlight of the band’s set.

'DJ', a slow procession of guitar arpeggios and piano chords that departs to the distant sound of industrial pounding, brightens the mood meanwhile as the CD counter returns to zero.

A subtle re-moulding of their trademark approach, Ones and Sixes showcases that deep into their career Low can incorporate new aspects into their sonic identity and stands as proof that quarter of a century on, the Minnesotan trio sound as vital and questing as ever.