On September 11th, Low will release Ones and Sixes, their fifth album for Sub Pop. It’s their eleventh album overall, and a continuation in the storied career of core members/husband and wife Alan Sparhawk and Mimi Parker.
One thing that becomes apparent through Ones and Sixes is that it’s far less bleak than their previous effort, 2013’s The Invisible Way. “Spanish Translation”, one of the standout tracks, starts with ambient keyboard and guitar before leading into a dirgey, primitive gallop. Co-leader Alan Sparhawk’s lyrics are oblique as always, and like early fan favorites like “Plastic Cup” or ‘Dinosuar Act”, they incorporate the surreal with easily identifiable human emotion. Sparhawk sings: “everything always confusion, things I could never explain, then I saw your Spanish translation, and nothing has since been the same”. His partner Mimi Parker joins in on harmony on the chorus, leading listeners closer to understanding the song’s meaning:“All that I thought I knew then flew out the back of my head, into the river it bled”.
Like some of Low’s more recent albums, Ones and Sixes contains flourises of electronic percussion, buzzing static and electronic keyboards. For the uninitiated, hearing the introduction to “Gentle” or “Into You” might give the impression that Low will head in a completely different direction, one void of guitars or pop song structure. Of course, these sounds are just a vehicle for Sparhawk and Parker to deliver their trademark sound, and it never ventures too far into the abstract. The record was co-produced by engineer BJ Burton at Justin Vernon’s April Base Studios in Eau Claire. Photos of April Base show collections of synthesizers both old and new, so it makes sense that they would be featured so heavily on many of these songs.
Despite all the electronics, Low can still work their way around a traditional rock song, sometimes veering away from ‘slowcore’ into near-anthemic territory. “No End” is the most straight-ahead song on the record, featuring a jangly, descending hook that implies the Byrds or Petty (keyword: implies). It’s a love song, and much easier to deconstruct than songs like “Spanish Translation”, lyrics like “I couldn’t wait to come back through to you” abound.
Ones and Sixes is a welcome addition to the Low catalogue, and sees the band developing without losing the trademarks that earned them so many fans in the first place.
Review by Evan McDowell