REVIEW: Low, Drums and Guns, Sub Pop

Posted April 18th, 2007 by eric

Low needed to get 2005’s The Great Destroyer out of its system. Too many years of turtle-paced rock would wipe any band out, so it’s no wonder Low needed a chance to turn up the volume and flesh out the rock, however briefly.

It was the first time the band had ever pushed the beats-per-minute past dirge-speed in its 14-year existence. The mixed reaction it received is neither here nor there. It was inevitable that fan and, even, critical backlash would occur. Low practically invented the unfortunately named slow-core movement with its sparse, droning, funereal hymns, and to make a record which blatantly cast aside its own core musical principles was bound to meet with some objection.

On Drums and Guns, Low reverts back to familiar pacing, so, on the surface, it would seem as though the trio had learned its lesson and returned to business as usual with its tail between its legs. This couldn’t be further from the truth, however, as this record really doesn’t have that much in common with the Low of old, other than the obvious pulse rate. Sure, Alan Sparhawk’s and Mimi Parker’s voices meld beautifully over deliberately drawn-out arrangements, but the slowness isn’t as noticeable. You’re not being beaten over the head with how slow the music is- it just flows naturally. Each song unfurls without complication or distraction. This music is raw and succinct.

Low scatters syncopated electronic beats throughout the open spaces, while maintaining a minimalistic atmosphere. It’s very tricky to pull off, and Low accomplishes the feat with help from clever production by David Fridmann. All voices are panned hard-right, while the beats occupy equal volume on the left. The instrumental drone lulls in the middle. Low utilizes single-note vintage organ sounds to counter the machinated pulses, and it gives the record an organic underbelly that reeks of melancholy.

With an album title like Drums and Guns, you’d have to be pretty daft to miss the political overtones. Low practically beats you over the head with its anti-war sentiment, both visually and lyrically, but the effect is less obnoxious than you’d imagine. Typically, I find politically motivated music abhorrent because its expiration date is always too soon. But these songs work on more than just a politically-minded level, as Sparhawk and Parker express a collective sense of regret that is relatable outside of such broad-stroke themes as war.

Sparhawk’s voice has never sounded so good. With all of his emotional turmoil over the past few years, I honestly didn’t expect another Low record, but Drums and Guns stands as an argument for Low being at the height of its powers.

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