For 25 years, Duluth, Minnesota-based indie rockers Low have put out albums that defy expectations. Whether it was their early days of turning it down and playing slow while everybody else seemed to be going fast and loud or later albums on which they cast aside the strictures of the slowcore genre by adding elements of dissonance, post-rock, and electronic music to the mix, the band—husband and wife mainstays and co-vocalists, guitarist Alan Sparhawk and drummer Mimi Parker, along with bassist Steve Garrington—have always been about exploring new sonic territories.
They continue this journey on their 12th album, Double Negative, which drops Sept. 14 through Sub Pop.
The roots of this new album go back to their prior release, 2015’s Ones and Sixes. On it, they enlisted the services of producer BJ Burton, who helped push more electronic elements to the forefront. The band decided to use him again on Double Negative, because they wanted to further explore this new sonic territory. “The last record went very well for us,” Sparhawk says. “We liked what we heard, so we thought we could push that sound further. It would be a new way for us to create. It’s definitely not how we sound when we play live. It’s all in the spirit of keeping it interesting.”
The album opens with the triptych of “Quorum,” “Dancing and Blood,” and “Fly,” which were also released as a trio of interconnected videos. These three songs set down the “rules” for the rest of the album to follow. “Sequencing is an odd thing,” Sparhawk says. “You see that a group of songs work well together and certain patterns emerge. The first three songs set up the sonic palette for the rest of album. It sets up new boundaries. There is the option of pushing that farther in order to create a new vocabulary for the listener.”
Double Negative follows through on Sparhawk’s statement. It definitely doesn’t sound like a band resting on their laurels. Nope. The album retains all of Low’s stark beauty, but it also drowns a lot of these moments in feedback and hiss. It challenges the listener to leave all their preconceived notions of what Low should sound like at the proverbial door. For a band reaching their 25th anniversary, this drive to explore new avenues of sonic expression is quite commendable. Others may play it safe, but not them. After all, that’s been their modus operandi since the very beginning. “The band was formed on doing something different, pushing boundaries,” Sparhawk says.
Geography has also played a part in forming Low’s sound and ethos. “We grew up in Northwest Minnesota where there was basically nothing going on,” Sparhawk explains. “In Minneapolis, you had Prince, The Replacements, and Hüsker Dü. That was the spark. There were people really close by doing cool stuff. It gave us hope. It made us believe that it was possible.”
“Of course, the climate also has an effect too,” he adds. “You become a shut-in for the winter, just huddled inside strumming your guitar.”
It’s been quite the journey for Low: a quarter century of shattered expectations and growth. Though, when they first started, Sparhawk didn’t think they would last this long. “Of course not, no. When we first started, we were just a bunch of friends trying to play slow and quiet. We’re lucky we’ve been able to take it as far as we have. We take it one step, one year at a time,” he says. “We’ve been lucky. We’ve met some great people, got some lucky breaks. It’s all about, ‘Can we do this, or do we have to take time off and go into the spiral of getting jobs?’ We’ve found a way to keep stringing it along. It’s been a pretty wonderful ride.”