Monday, March 26, 2007

Low, Drums and Guns

Drums and Guns (Sub Pop)
Grade: B

Download: Low - "Violent Past"
Download: Low - "Pretty People"
Download: Low - "Hatchet"

In truth, I feel that Low are a band for whom I have great admiration, in terms of the creativity of their sound. However, I don't actually, actively listen to them when I want hear something for pure enjoyment. To put it more concisely, I find Low more intellectually stimulating than emotionally appealing.

So, while you will certainly find albums such as Things We Lost In The Fire in my record collection, you won't necessarily find me whipping it out at Friday night parties in order to impress friends (the record, you pervert).

Low are arguably slowcore's defining band, with Mimi Parker and Alan Sparhawk's haunting harmonies hanging like spectres above the most minimal of instrumental arrangements. When Low started experimenting with their sound on their last record, The Great Destroyer, mainly by turning up the volume and kicking up the temp, I finally found myself becoming more engaged with their music.

The Great Destroyer was the band's first record for Sub Pup. Maybe the changing of labels help give Low the kick in the pants that they needed, because Drums and Guns continues the evolution of the band's sound (with Dave Fridmann continuing his production duties). But they also retain the hymnal, austere quality of earlier works, so much so that I felt like I was listening to 21st century gospel music (with elements of folk intertwined at set at the pace of a dirge).

While music like that is amazing from time to time - particularly on the first track, "Pretty People" - after a few repeated listens, Drums and Guns sounds like the musical equivalent of wailing and the gnashing of the teeth. Again, it's something I don't necessarily listen to frequently. But it is also something I nonetheless find compelling.

As you might expect based on the title, Drums and Guns is all about war and violence, mainly the toll that war can take on the human spirit. Even the soft electronic drum touches that Low add sound like distant gunfire. The album is fulled with world weary resignation from the very first lines - Sparhawk intones that "All you soldiers/are all gonna die" - and on through psalm-invoking tracks like "In Silence" and the introspective examination of "Violent Past."

There is exactly one moment of levity on Drums and Guns, and that's "Hatchet," a song about seeking reconciliation "like The Beatles and The Stones." The song is comparatively upbeat to the rest of the album's material, and "Hatchet" serves as a nice contrast to the bleak nature that fits the rest of Drums and Guns.

Low continue to do an amazing job of expanding their minimal sound, but the bleak and repetitive nature of Drums and Guns makes listening to the album a frustrating mix of monotony and grand reward.

(Jonathan Graef)

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