Review: A New High For Low

Low/Hey What/Sub Pop
Three Out of Five Stars

Well over 25 years and a dozen albums on, Low continues to maintain its strict indie ethos, offering up often indistinct melodies, scratchy rhythms, a dire dissonance, and a lo-fi approach that takes them well beyond the mainstream and into the realms of abject experimentation. In truth, the only thing truly predictable about the band is their total lack of predictability and their unceasing desire to explore new sonic frontiers. Alan Sparhawk and Mimi Parker remain the only regulars in a band that’s seen a somewhat steady shift in its support personnel, but fortunately, they’ve proven quite capable of taking the band’s mantra and mystique forward.

With Hey What, the blurring of melody and mayhem is as pronounced as ever. The songs find some context initially, but quickly become obscured by screeching synths and over-the-top atmospherics that effectively find the proceedings becoming wholly unhinged. “All Night” and “Disappearing” are two of the more obvious examples, each a dream-like diversion taken totally astray by the eerie and pervasive sounds that quickly monopolize the mix. The fact that all the songs segue seamlessly together adds to the intrigue, while at the same time reducing the entire album to a series of hazy soundscapes that mostly come across as a bit of a blur.

Things gain momentum midway through with the rallying cry of “Days Like These,” as Sparhawk and Parker offer a sustained shout-out that eventually gives way to more tender trappings before its prolonged fade. “Home” also adds an emphatic punch to the proceedings, suggesting an edge and energy that often seem lacking elsewhere. The remainder of the album is mostly mellow, with “Don’t Walk Away” providing a relaxing respite even though it too is tempered by underlying atmospherics. The added noise does prove to be a distraction in the majority of cases, but then again, it’s the distinctive element that separates Low from its other emboldened brethren.

It’s appropriate, then, that the final track, the plodding “The Price You Pay (It Must Be Wearing Off),” seems an apt coda, one that emphasizes the understanding that in order to appreciate the essence of Low’s lethargic approach, one must be willing to embrace the added elements that accompany it. Not surprisingly, Hey What makes for the attention-grabber its title implies.

Photo by Nathan Keay

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