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LOW – Drums And Guns (Sub Pop)

For their eighth album Mormon trio Low have undergone a drastic re-invention, stripping down their sound to the bare minimum – often just drums and vocals with the merest hint of bass. With a lot of bands this would result in an unholy mess, but the one thing that Low have always had in their favour – and which has elevated them up above their contemporaries - is their knack with a catchy tune, and so this album is as eminently listenable as any of their others. ‘Pretty People’ opens proceedings as they mean to go on, with funereal drums under Alan Sparhawk’s mournful vocals. ‘Belarus’ is another slow burner with Mimi Parker adding her voice to the song, while ‘Breaker’ even has handclaps as percussion and an organ to beef up the sound. ‘Dragonfly’ employs an echoey industrial backing and minimal guitar, while ‘Sandinista’ is just drums and vocals. You start to realise at about this point that this album is never going to erupt into the lush soundscapes of their previous work, but you also appreciate just what beautiful music they can make with just a rhythm section and their effortless vocals. ‘Dust On The Window’ actually has a guitar solo, but it is subtle enough not to overshadow the song, and ‘Your Poison’ eschews instruments altogether for the first two verses. ‘Take Your Time’ is a bells and drum machine piece, while ‘In Silence’ is classic Low of old, with guitar and piano filling out the song. ‘Murderer’ employs creepy guitar work to emphasise the horror of the lyrics, and the album ends with the organ of ‘Violent Past’ pushed almost to the point of distortion, but still leaving room for a cracking tune. Even for devout fans of the band this release will take a bit of time to get into, as even though it is obviously the Low that we know and love, the experimentation on here sounds so out of place that it takes a little while to get used to. Persevere, though, and you will be well rewarded.
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