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Low's 'Double Negative' Is Another Subtle Reinvention

Low's <em>Double Negative</em> comes out Sept. 14.
Paul Husband
/
Courtesy of the artist
Low's Double Negative comes out Sept. 14.

Note: NPR's First Listen audio comes down after the album is released. However, you can still listen with the Spotify or Apple Music playlist at the bottom of the page.


Low began in 1993 as an exercise in restraint, with songs that rang out softly, clearly and, above all, slowly. Giving each isolated note space to reverberate, Alan Sparhawk and Mimi Parker wrung intense drama from songs that could be unsettlingly spare, lyrically vague and, at times, almost unnervingly pretty.

For a band so often defined by apparent strictures on its sound, Low has proven incredibly versatile. Throughout a catalog that spans 12 studio albums, another dozen or so EPs, a Christmas record that's justly become a classic, and countless one-offs, it's upended its formulas constantly while still sounding unmistakably like itself. On the new Double Negative, those patterns hold true amid Low's most radical reinvention yet.

Working again with producer B.J. Burton — who's lent his mind to the busily imaginative likes of Low's great 2015 album Ones and Sixes and, notably, Bon Iver's 22, A Million — Low throws itself into what often sounds like an inversion of its classic sound. "Quorum" opens Double Negative with static-scarred loops that curdle and crunch menacingly, setting a fresh scene with maximum efficiency: This is the sound of beauty as it's distorted to the point of disintegration.

Of course, as on 22, A Million, all this disintegrated beauty is still, well, beautiful; it's just unsettled and uncertain, to match the band's mindset and the era in which Double Negative was made. When Sparhawk sings, "It's not the end / It's just the end of hope" in "Dancing and Fire," he's found a perfect sentiment to match a song that sounds as if it's been beamed from the galaxy's loneliest satellite.

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Stephen Thompson is a writer, editor and reviewer for NPR Music, where he speaks into any microphone that will have him and appears as a frequent panelist on All Songs Considered. Since 2010, Thompson has been a fixture on the NPR roundtable podcast Pop Culture Happy Hour, which he created and developed with NPR correspondent Linda Holmes. In 2008, he and Bob Boilen created the NPR Music video series Tiny Desk Concerts, in which musicians perform at Boilen's desk. (To be more specific, Thompson had the idea, which took seconds, while Boilen created the series, which took years. Thompson will insist upon equal billing until the day he dies.)