Low's new album is different. There's no way around this fact. The Great Destroyer was break enough for most Low fans, the burst of sound at the opening of Monkey taking the band's devotees right out of their comfort zone.
Certainly we were used to a bit of heavy intensity in the music. Trust came before TGD and just listen to Canada. Things We Lost In The Fire had the brooding Whitetail (a revelation at last summer's Don't Look Back show, by the by). But nothing prepared us for the noisy interjections of Everybody's Song, or the maelstrom dynamics of When I Go Deaf. These threw us, those who had come to love Low as slowcore pioneers; for all the ridicule and justified scorn that that label attracts, at least we were safe.
But what do you know, I love The Great Destroyer. It's an astounding body of work, rich, organic, intense and with some of the band's finest songs. So what were we to expect from Drums & Guns? More of the same? Would Dave Fridmann have progressed to pastures new, would he have drawn them down the neo-psychedelic route that Mercury Rev and Flaming Lips once trod? Would he have vanished to allow a return to the stilted silence and breathing space of Low's earlier works? As it turns out, none of the above.
Pretty People is a statement of intent at the front of this new record, but it's not representative. Yes there's that noise there, but Drums & Guns is an album of beats, of percussion, of taking the band's wonderful vocal talents and juxtaposing them with an entirely new sound. Nothing on this album bar the singing sounds like Low. It's incredibly brave and more than a little foolhardy, but having listened to Drums & Guns through the pain barrier now, I'm falling into the camp of... it works.
I'm taking Always Fade as my case study. It's not Low, surely, you cry. It has an almost... funky... bassline. Almost. It has a beat built from strange blocks, reverb, echo, delay, fancy things. It shouldn't work. But its cohesion comes from the fact that this is still Low, it's still Sparhawk and Parker, there are always, but always going to be melodies you can hang your hat from, they're so hooky. There's one interval on "always fade..." that just lifts up your heart. It's melodies like this where I have to check myself if I'm out in public to avoid overly expressive eyebrow syndrome.
But my favourite part of the track, and maybe the album is about a minute and a half in, where the percussion loop topples over itself and ends up building up to cover every single semiquaver in the bar. This is taken even further later on when the delay and reverb shoot up and the sound almost collapses in on itself. It sounds like thunder.
It turns out that Drums & Guns is an album of hidden delights. Maybe you do have to work for them, but when you ifnd them it's Low: it's beautiful.
Low - Always Fade (Drums & Guns, 2007)