Low: HEY WHAT (Sub Pop) - review | Under the Radar Magazine Under the Radar | Music Blog for the Indie Music Magazine
Friday, June 21st, 2024  



Sub Pop

Sep 10, 2021 Web Exclusive Bookmark and Share

There are two Minnesotas. The first one, the one most people know, is just the Twin Cities—the bustling, beating heart of the state which gave rise to the immortal sounds of Prince, and of Minneapolis soul. The other, however, couldn’t be more different from the hypersexual technicolor of The Purple One. As you go north of the Cities toward Low’s hometown of Duluth, the urban jungle gives way to wide-open prairie and, eventually, boreal forest. The sounds of city life are chased away by wind rushing in from the north. Here, amidst abundant natural beauty, winter arrives as early as October and brings with it a serene stillness that makes the bitter cold worth enduring.

This year, the stillness isn’t serene, but uncanny. In this summer’s extreme drought, the Mississippi River near the town of Jacobson has been reduced to a trickle. Gooseberry Falls, a popular swimming spot for residents of Minnesota’s north shore, has completely dried up. All the while, as water sources dwindle, the Enbridge corporation is threatening hundreds of bodies of water with a proposed rebuild of an oil pipeline that has already caused incalculable harm to the local environment. The destruction of the world that brought Low such existential despair on 2018’s Double Negative has made its way to Alan Sparhawk and Mimi Parker’s doorstep, and in doing so, seems to have given their music and lyrics a renewed sense of purpose. On HEY WHAT, Sparhawk and Parker, working again with producer BJ Burton, hone the sonic language they explored on Double Negative into a terrible swift sword that cuts like the Minnesota winter wind against the spectres that threaten their home.

HEY WHAT rides in deathlike on pale “White Horses,” where a barrage of guitar and amp noise introduces a distorted, clipped rhythm that provides a jagged counterpoint to Low’s forceful, funereal vocal harmony. In contrast to Double Negative, where their vocals were processed to blend into and become one with the distortion, the vocal effects on HEY WHAT are subtler and allow Sparhawk and Parker to not only blend in with the noise, but stand in opposition to it. “All Night” uses the contrast to great effect in its depiction of an internal psychological struggle as seen from the outside, with vocals that get gradually consumed by guitar squalls and doom-metal bass drum hits as if the song is moving into the headspace of its subject. Lead single “Days Like These” undergoes a similar transfiguration, beginning as a pop hymn and finishing with a lush, droning outro that fades into the windblown instrumental interlude “There’s a Comma After Still.” The music begins in an outward, expressive mood and slowly inverts to an inward, reflective one.

Still, Low’s music is no less impactful for it. The fire-and-brimstone of Double Negative powerfully captured the Trump era’s zeitgeist, the ever-present sense of “oh shit, we’re all going to die,” but more of the same wouldn’t be appropriate in a post-Trump world. Existential threats to our livelihood still abound, except they no longer have a proverbial horse in a hospital to hide behind, and the people currently in power seem to be in no hurry to address them. As Parker succinctly puts it, “I should have asked for more than what I got.” In this way, HEY WHAT reflects on Double Negative’s despair and emerges with a defiant affirmation that our lives are worth living, and worth fighting for. (www.chairkickers.com)

Author rating: 8.5/10

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Average reader rating: 8/10


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