Low Remain at the Top of Their Creative Peak on 'HEY WHAT'

Low Remain at the Top of Their Creative Peak on 'HEY WHAT'
Double Negative, Low's hugely celebrated 2018 LP, saw the Duluth, MN-based band moving even further away from their trademark minimal slowcore into something much more textural. On their latest release, HEY WHAT, the duo's sound will seem almost foreign to longtime fans. But across 10 songs and 48 minutes of crunching rhythms, reverberated chants and layered noise, the husband-and-wife duo of Alan Sparhawk and Mimi Parker have somehow become even more melodic and melded.

Once again recorded by Charli XCX and Lizzo producer BJ Burton, Low's 13th album is an ultramodern soundscape. Tracks like the stuttering "I Can Wait" and the choral "Don't Walk Away" sound remarkably crisp, as Burton employs many of his digital layering techniques that made his work on Bon Iver's last two LPs so fascinating and mysterious. HEY WHAT is Low's first album recorded as as a duo, but Burton almost acts like a third member; nearly every moment is a wholly studio-crafted creation, with the only exception being Sparhawk and Parker's vocals.

Often recorded starkly clean, the pair bring a certain mortality into these airless backing tracks. But this just adds to the juxtaposition that fuels tracks like the tension-filled five-minute opener, "White Horses," a song that brazenly ends with a full 90 seconds of a single note thud. The eight-minute "Hey" abruptly switches gears multiple times, moving from rhythmic wallop to ambient hum, all held together by Parker's affecting vocal delivery.

Although Low focus on simpler phrasing and memorable hooks across HEY WHAT, tracks like the jagged "All Night" and the backmasked "More" use less variety in Parker's melodies, relying much more on repetition and processed chants. However, this allows much of the recording to come off as a singular piece, as tracks blend into each other and ideas and themes reoccur throughout. Even the wildly exploratory closer "The Price You Pay (It Must Be Wearing Off)" builds and decomposes in such a dramatic manner that it couldn't realistically be placed anywhere else on the album.

Low's latest finds Sparkhawk and Parker at a thrillingly creative and intrepid peak, building off their experimental blueprint laid out with their 2015 LP Ones and Sixes and fully realized on Double Negative. Although HEY WHAT falls squarely in between the two, it's safe to say that no one is making music that sounds remotely similar to what Low is giving us. (Sub Pop)