Ones and Sixes – Low (2015)

Ones and Sixes cover art
Ones and Sixes cover art

Another one of this season’s pleasant surprises came from Low. There might be some unwritten musical order that states that some band’s sound a certain way and will continue to do so throughout its lifecycle. For Low, that order has produced a catalog distinguished by melancholy played out over slow motion note progressions. It was the kind of stark sound that recalled the beauty of snow covered landscapes.

Low has been turning that order on its head lately. The last few album releases have gradually introduced a more energetic and intense Low, not the same band who wooed the music world with the glacial pacing of albums like 1995’s Long Division.

With Ones and Sixes, Low has a new urgency about it.  Previous albums like C’mon and The Invisible Way showed a slightly brighter side to the band, but on Ones and Sixes, Low has moved ever closer to pop territory. Musically, Low adds subtle electronics as a backdrop to their usual drums, bass and guitar. This may be attributed to co-producer BJ Burton who has worked with bands like The Rosebuds, Aero Flynn and Sylvan Esso.

From it’s opening moments on “Gentle” a Bjork like beat in the background sets the tone of Ones and Sixes. When the electronics come to the forefront as on the mid-tempo “The Innocents “or “DJ”, the results manage to surprise and still conform to fans expectations of what a Low song should sound like. This might be because Mimi Parker’s reassuring voice adds a softness against the metallic sheen of the electronics.

The other part of Low’s vocal team, Allen Sparhawk still maintains a contrast nicely against Parker who displays a newfound intensity. “Lies” for instance is bursting with her voice soring at the songs end like never before on a Low album. Interestingly Ones and Sixes mixes a rollercoaster array of mood swings like the traditional downbeat tone of “Landslide” with the happy swing of “No End”. In fact “No End” sounds like it could have been written for Marshal Crenshaw’s Field Day.

Low’s 17th album proves that even if your band is known for a particularly distinctive sound, there’s no reason to be bound by it. Ones and Sixes stays true to the basic concept of Low while expanding their musical order for the better. It’s just one of those things that makes this time of year the best for new music. Don’t you just love autumn releases?

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