Friday, October 12th, 2018

Low – Disarray

With a score that’s somewhat high.


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[6.12]

Ian Mathers: Mimi Parker and Alan Sparhawk’s harmony singing has sometimes been called (among other customary epithets for that kind of thing) “angelic,” but from the pulverized blasts that introduce “Disarray,” it’s clear that if angels are being evoked it’s the vividly weird ones from the Old Testament that needed to announce themselves with “be not afraid” just so people didn’t freak out. And yet, in the middle of all that pounding (just one of many starkly beautiful distancing techniques the trio use on Double Negative, one of their best records in a quarter-century career) there is something straightforwardly moving about those voices, and about what they’re saying. Who can escape the feeling in 2018 that we need to learn to live a different way, either in the positive sense of transforming the world or in the self-preserving sense of just plain surviving? Is there a better way to sum up the queasy combination of despairing, confused guilt and the helplessness of the (demonically? angelically?) possessed that 2018 often feels like than “they said you let it in when you took the drugs”? I read something a little while ago I can’t seem to find now but that was along the lines of “I’m realizing that a lot of people who are very thoughtful about religion experience it as a sort of constant horror.” And I’m thinking of another friend, who put it as “all truly great religious art involves the difficulty of faith.” And those are both things that Low, one of the very few truly great religious bands out there for whom that phrase isn’t either a thin veil for politics or a pleasing fiction centered around their niche status, have been doing for nearly as long as I’ve been alive. And even in the middle of the last song on the most confronting album of their careers, one that sounds blasted and wracked in a way that truly fits with the way the world is currently going, there’s a line that gives me some hope (despite never having been a member of any religion): “the truth is not something that you have not heard.” Maybe figuring that out is the first part of learning to live a different way.
[10]

Alfred Soto: Having underestimated these people for fifteen years, I sat down and cranked this up. And waited. And waited. Harmonies and staccato percussive stabs aside, where’s the rest? 
[4]

Jacob Sujin Kuppermann: This is less minimal and more skeletal, sounding like a solid wall of sound that’s been hewn until it resolved itself into a ghost of a song. It wins on aesthetics alone — the combination of the amorphous, choppy rhythm parts here and the eerie harmonies is compelling — but I wish there was a little more of an arc here, to elevate “Disarray” into something more interesting than a fun set of textures.
[6]

Anna Suiter: Decentering the vocal track here mostly works, and prevents you from puzzling too much over what the (minimal) lyrics might mean. The scratchy instrumental makes for a track all by itself, and something less dull than I’d expect after listening to the first 30 seconds or so. I have to wonder how it would sound without the vocals at all.
[6]

Taylor Alatorre: The AMC computer drama Halt and Catch Fire had some inspired soundtrack choices, from the Trentemøller start-up tune to a use of the War on Drugs’ “Red Eyes” that felt less anachronistic than inevitable. If the series went on for another season, I like to think this would’ve been at least considered for some climactic scene. The oscillating analog crunch is the product of a tug-of-war between the mechanistic and the organic, at once evocative of an earlier era of technology and of the tensions from that era we have yet to resolve. Shorn of such narrative import, though, it’s something less impressive — a testament to the prioritization of sound design over songwriting.
[6]

Tim de Reuse: Not “experimental” so much as “experimental-sounding,” that is, working with a sonic surface that takes a little bit to get used to, but otherwise just doing the usual thing. Is that cynical of me to say? Sure! But this ain’t the first pop song to throw down some crunchy percussion and claim that its sound design bravery excuses the rest of it being half-finished.
[3]

Edward Okulicz: This is an impressive amalgam of some ugly chopped up sounds and what sounds like a sped up bit of 70s Americana folk pop. Like, if I slowed it down 10% it might sound like Arca remixing America. Sometimes I wish it was even faster, sometimes I wish it were actually slowed down, but I like it every time.
[8]

Joshua Minsoo Kim: On Double Negative, producer BJ Burton morphs the ideas he presented on Ones and Sixes into an extreme that, for better or worse, makes it sound like the group has made their own 22, A Million. The fortunate thing is how it feels like an appropriate template for the group and not a cheap continuation of the Bon Iver/Francis & The Lights/James Blake axis of pop that Burton has had a hand in (see: the shoehorned final section of Lizzo’s “Bother Me“). If you approach it from the right angle, “Disarray” is actually not too different from the group’s earliest works. The prickly electronics are simply another instrument that grounds the piece — much like repetitiously struck guitar chords or a steady bassline — that allows for a soundworld carried by Alan Sparhawk and Mimi Parker’s singing. Their harmonies and the static rhythm with which their sung find an unsettling middle ground between human warmth and cold robotics. What this does is allow for the staccato noise to feel less and less disorienting over time, dulling their presence to the point of familiar comfort or apathetic acceptance. That the song begins with the warning, “before it falls into total disarray…” is grim. Is this how we got here, is this how we got to 2018?
[6]

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