Low – ‘Hey What’ review: Minnesota duo shake off the ‘slowcore’ tag once and for all

28 years into their career, the band continue to reshape rock music, rounding off a trifecta of records that's seen them subtly reinvent themselves

It seems like a hundred years – actually, 28 – since Duluth, Minnesota duo Low emerged with their often languid, deconstructed, harmony-driven take on rock. Theirs was a sound that defied classification, and so one had to be quickly invented: ‘slowcore’. Rare are the acts who run towards a label coined by those outside their circle, and the band railed against this one from the start.

Despite this, term rarely made more sense than when applied to their classic fifth album, 2001’s ‘Things We Lost In The Fire’, a record that ebbed with understated beauty and sonic sadness. Then, in 2015, Low released their 11th record ‘Ones and Sixes’. It contains some of their best work – ‘What Part Of Me’ is desperately haunting, like a lovelorn ghost trying to break through the veil. But elsewhere the band began to experiment with harsher audio tones. For the first time, the previously snug-fitting ‘slowcore’ tag stopped making sense.

As the world has become more stark and hostile, so too has Low’s music, with ‘Hey What’ rounding out a trifecta of records (this one follows 2018’s dread-fuelled ‘Double Negative’) that have finally allowed them to be the band they actually want to be, rather than the one we want them to be. It can’t be a coincidence that this, and the two records that proceed it, were produced by one BJ Burton, who has previously worked with the likes of Bon Iver, Charli XCX and Lizzo. Again, the instruments used on ‘Hey What’’s songs sound little as you’d expect of them. Traditional sounds like guitar and drums hiss and splutter; the record is abrasive and unsettling.

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The voices of guitarist Alan Sparhawk and drummer Mimi Parker remain one of pop’s most wondrous pairings, but here the canvas on which they paint pictures is broader and taller than ever before. The ethereal ‘Don’t Walk Away’ is a song that begins without compass, meanders throughout, and ends up in a place that is both surprising and uncharted. ‘There Is A Comma After Still’ is even more esoteric, sounding not unlike a radio signal intercepted from a distant alien race.

The record closes with a strange, seven-minute-long composition entitled ‘The Price You Pay (Must Be Wearing Off’). It’s akin to the Low you know and the Low of now duelling off. In 2021, Low aren’t merely playing rock music gently and slowly: now they’re attempting to rewrite the language of the genre.

Details

Release date: September 10

Record label: Sub Pop

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