Twenty-five years into their career, slowcore masters Low may have just released their most radical album yet. While staying true to their spirit, Double Negative represents a bold turn into the unknown for the Duluth, Minnesota outfit.
Ample credit for guiding the band into new territory goes to producer BJ Burton, who also produced 2015’s Ones and Sixes (and had a major part in shaping Bon Iver’s similarly dense 22, A Million). Over two years in Justin Vernon’s April Base studio, Low and Burton crafted a fascinating specimen of recording that’s truly one of a kind.
Exemplified on tracks like “Quorum” and “Tempest,” the album’s unique sound reveals a repeated process of building up sonic textures and then reductively stripping them back. It sounds as if they made an album, then left the tapes in a Wisconsin meadow for four seasons in the elements.
Through the distortion, the haunting vocal chemistry between Alan Sparhawk and Mimi Parker remains Low’s defining trait. Even the moments of near silence, like on the entirely ambient “The Son, the Son,” are riveting for their muted absence.
While not explicitly political, Sparhawk has admitted that the album is deeply affected by the current state of politics, which has shaken his (and many others’) faith in modern society. Through that lens, the degraded landscape of Double Negative is a metaphor for where we are: systems of communication have failed and the outlook is grim, but a resilient, albeit desperate, humanity still cries through the fog.
Ryan is a writer, editor and vinyl collector currently based in Los Angeles. He started Mini Music Critic in 2017.