Gird yourself for the change of seasons with Low’s new album, ‘Ones and Sixes’


I arrived late to the Low party — though that’s a terrible analogy, considering the band has been peddling its trademark brooding, haunting and decidedly non-celebratory music for more than two decades. But aside from discovering a few songs during the Napster era, it wasn’t until I happened upon their 2011 album “C’mon” that I really fell hard for the band.

Now they’re back with a new album, Ones and Sixes (Sub Pop), which NPR First Listen is offering for streaming before its official Sept. 11 release date.

I love everything about this band, starting with its pedigree. First, they’re the pride of Duluth, Minn., and their sound to me often evokes the melancholy and subtle beauty of life in a place where winter reigns. Secondly, guitarist-vocalist Alan Sparhawk and percussionist-vocalist Mimi Parker are married parents (hey!). Thirdly, they’re Mormon. Also, Robert Plant is a huge fan.

Low’s music, dubbed “slowcore” back when they debuted during the ’90s grunge heyday, can be incredibly simple, clean and even quiet at times (especially in those early years). But they manage to achieve extraordinary power and emotional depths through the use of minor keys, slow-build song structures, vocal harmonies and soft-loud dynamics. Increasingly, the band is not afraid to turn up the volume and get aggressive — check out “Landslide” for proof.

The new album finds the band exploring lots of interesting electronic percussion and sonic textures and incisive lyrics. Mimi sings in her falsetto voice about houses on fire and “All you innocents make a run for it / All you innocents might be done for it” over a strange, distorted drumbeat. There’s also the Yo La Tengo-esque pop of “What Part of Me,” in which the married couple harmonizes, “What part of me don’t you know / what part of me don’t you own?”

This one’s going to be one of those albums that sustains me through the long winter ahead.

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