In 2018, the band Low will turn twenty-five. Since 1993, Alan Sparhawk and Mimi Parker—the married couple whose heaven-and-earth harmonies have always held the band’s center—have pioneered a subgenre, shrugged off its strictures, recorded a Christmas classic, become a magnetic onstage force, and emerged as one of music’s most steadfast and vital vehicles for pulling light from our darkest emotional recesses. But Low will not commemorate its first quarter-century with mawkish nostalgia or safe runs through songbook favorites. Instead, in faithfully defiant fashion, Low will release its most brazen, abrasive (and, paradoxically, most empowering) album ever: Double Negative, an unflinching eleven-song quest through snarling static and shattering beats that somehow culminates in the brightest pop song of Low’s career.

To make Double Negative, Low reenlisted B.J. Burton, the quietly energetic and adventurous producer who has made records with James Blake, Sylvan Esso, and The Tallest Man on Earth in recent years while working as one of the go-to figures at Bon Iver’s home studio, April Base. Burton recorded Low’s last album, 2015’s Ones and Sixes, at April Base, adding might to many of its beats and squelch and frisson beneath many of its melodies.

This time, though, Sparhawk, Parker, and bassist Steve Garrington knew they wanted to go further with Burton and his palette of sounds, to see what someone who is, as Sparhawk puts it, “a hip-hop guy” could truly do to their music. Rather than obsessively write and rehearse at home in Duluth, Minnesota, they would often head southeast to Eau Claire, Wisconsin, arriving with sketches and ideas that they would work on for days with Burton. Band and producer became collaborative cowriters, building the pieces up and breaking them down and building them again until their purpose and force felt clear. As the world outside seemed to slide deeper into instability, Low repeated this process for the better part of two years, pondering the results during tours and breaks at home. They considered not only how the fragments fit together but also how, in the United States of 2018, they functioned as statements and salves.

Double Negative is, indeed, a record perfectly and painfully suited for our time. Loud and contentious and commanding, Low fights for the world by fighting against it. It begins in pure bedlam, with a beat built from a loop of ruptured noise waging war against the paired voices of Sparhawk and Parker the moment they begin to sing during the massive “Quorum.” For forty minutes, they indulge the battle, trying to be heard amid the noisy grain, sometimes winning and sometimes being tossed toward oblivion.

During the immersive “Dancing and Blood,” Parker slowly comes into focus, as if signing from the wind-ripped mouth of a cave. Parker appears to beat back disaster for “Fly,” her soulful vocals curving into and above Garrington’s bold bassline as Sparhawk’s own signal cuts in and out. Elsewhere, though, songs like “Always Trying to Work It Out” and “Tempest” threaten to swallow the pair whole, their overwhelming quakes of dissonance aiming to silence them once and for all. Sometimes, Sparhawk and Parker are stuck in the Sisyphean middle, capable of neither failing nor forging ahead. During the brilliantly conceived “Poor Sucker,” written in large part by Garrington, their voices suggest skiffs stuck on some turbulent sea, falling beneath and rising above the cacophony with seasick irregularity. In this frustrated song of self-defeat, Low lists all the ways they could have made their lives matter. It is a eulogy of could-have-beens for a time that won’t really let you be.

As “Rome (Always in the Dark),” a march that forces its way through the din with damn-the-torpedoes tenacity, fades toward a rare silence, a pulse sculpted from a shard of noise emerges, flashing from a distance like the safety of a life raft. It rises into a steady thump, with Sparhawk and Parker floating above it in crystalline unison: “Before it falls into total disarray/You’ll have to learn to live a different way,” they sing, their melody forming a tightrope of despair and delight. In some ways, it’s a warning of the bad times to come. But it’s also a promise that we’re more powerful and adaptable than madness itself, that we have the ability to persevere. During the song’s back half, Sparhawk and Parker don’t say anything. They instead lock into august harmony and glide between notes, Parker’s purely ascendant tone pulling Sparhawk’s falsetto skyward. It is an exquisite and triumphant moment, an exhalation after all the damage and din.

In spite of the mounting noise, Sparhawk and Parker still sing. Or maybe they sing because of the noise. For Low, has there ever really been a difference? —Grayson Haver Currin

Past Shows


Dec
13
th
2019
The Fitzgerald Theater
Dec
13
th
2019
The Fitzgerald Theater

Low

Nov
23
rd
2019
Palace Theatre
Nov
23
rd
2019
Palace Theatre

Wilco

with Low
Nov
22
nd
2019
Palace Theatre
Nov
22
nd
2019
Palace Theatre

Wilco

with Low
Nov
2
nd
2018
The Fitzgerald Theater
Nov
2
nd
2018
The Fitzgerald Theater

Low

with INVIA
Jan
26
th
2018
Mainroom
Jan
26
th
2018
Mainroom

Andrew Broder

with Low, Fog, Marijuana Deathsquads and more!
Jul
8
th
2017
HIPPO CAMPUS with POLIÇA
Jul
8
th
2017
HIPPO CAMPUS with POLIÇA

Hippo Campus and POLIÇA

with Low, Remo Drive and J.S. Ondara
Dec
17
th
2016
Mainroom
Dec
17
th
2016
Mainroom

Low

with Hippo Campus, Gaelynn Lea, ERIK BERRY Irish American and more!
Jan
22
nd
2016
Mainroom
Nov
11
th
2015
Mainroom
Nov
11
th
2015
Mainroom

Low

with Andy Shauf
Oct
31
st
2014
Fine Line
Oct
31
st
2014
Fine Line

Slowdive

with Low and DJ Jake Rudh
Sep
20
th
2014
Canterbury Park
Sep
20
th
2014
Canterbury Park

Trampled by Turtles

with The Head And The Heart, Low, CHARLES BRADLEY & HIS EXTRAORDINAIRES and more!
Jun
28
th
2014
TRAMPLED BY TURTLES
Jun
28
th
2014
TRAMPLED BY TURTLES

Trampled by Turtles

with Doomtree, Low and Haley
Jan
27
th
2012
Mainroom
Jan
27
th
2012
Mainroom

89.3 The Current’s 7th Birthday Party

with Night Moves, Low, DEAD MAN WINTER and more!
Dec
17
th
2011
Mainroom
Dec
17
th
2011
Mainroom

POPSICKLE

CANCELED
with MORE, the 4onthefloor, Low and more!
Apr
16
th
2011
Mainroom
Apr
16
th
2011
Mainroom

Low

More Shows

Jan
27
th
7th St Entry

The Schizophonics

May
9
th
7th St Entry

The BellRays and Slim Cessna’s Auto Club

Nov
26
th
The Fitzgerald Theater

Dave Simonett

with bnsn rmsy
Dec
3
rd
Live Stream

Lucinda Williams