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Low's Hypnotic New Album: 'Drums and Guns'


"Drums and Guns" is the eighth album by a trio called Low out of Duluth, Minnesota. The band's been together since 1993, and has made a name for itself by crafting spare, down-tempo songs.

Music critic John Brady has this review of Low's latest record.

(Soundbite of music)

JOHN BRADY: I think it's fair to say that a band that pens a mesmerizing, droning number about a former Soviet Republic is not particularly concerned about its position in the top 40.

(Soundbite of music)

LOW (Rock Band): (Singing) To my mouth frozen shut.

BRADY: Indeed, Mimi Parker, Alan Sparhawk and Matt Livingston of Low seem positively happy to buck the conventions of pop music on their latest album.

They don't rely on the usual pop building blocks like catchy hooks or driving rhythm. Instead, they build their songs on a foundation of looping samples or cycles of cranky guitar. Then they layer on morbid lyrics, vapory and spooky harmonies and bursts of organ or the peeling of chimes.

(Soundbite of song, "Pretty People")

LOW: (Singing) Pretty fingers (unintelligible). Maybe it's your last time.

BRADY: True to form, many of the songs on this album are slow, as slow as molasses on a winter's day in Duluth, in fact. But what is most striking about these songs is not how slow they are, but how big and deep they seem. There's so much to hear in each song, and this stretches each track's sonic horizon.

(Soundbite of song, "In Silence")

LOW: (Singing) They thought desert would divide us, divide us, divide us with silence, with silence, with silence, with silence.

BRADY: This expanse of sound demands a different listening experience. We live in the age of the miniaturized music player. With out tiny iPods and laptops, we can have a disco in our own heads or fill our cramped cubicles with the teeny output of our overworked computer speakers. This won't do for this album. It needs a room with a big stereo and big speakers that are loud.

Then your ear can properly be tugged in each song's many different directions, towards Sparhawk's keen falsetto or towards Parker's insistent percussion or towards Livingston's persistently rumbling bass.

(Soundbite of song, "Dragonfly")

LOW: (Singing) Oh dragonfly, your thousand eyes - what do they see? The lines of history, some things should never be. Why do we even try? There's no such thing as dragonfly (unintelligible).

BRADY: Lyrically, this can be a bleak album. There are numerous references to death. Often, the lyrics are perplexing, but there are also flashes of humor in songs that come closer to telling a story. In this song, "Dust on the Window," Mimi Parker conjures up a character filled with both love and loneliness.

(Soundbite of song, "Dust on the Window")

Ms. MIMI PARKER (Singer): (Singing) Lie like a shadow, press on my pillow...

BRADY: Songs like these are my favorite. The tales told or hinted at in the lyrics give this wonderful album a satisfying emotional depth.

(Soundbite of song, "Dust on the Window")

Ms. PARKER: (Singing) Tell me where...

BRAND: The band is Low, the album "Drums and Guns." John Brady is a writer in Los Angeles. This is DAY TO DAY. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

John Brady
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