Review Summary: Brutally sparse and emotional, Drums and Guns is a more difficult album than Low fans will have become accustomed to. Regardless, it's the best thing they've done since Things We Lost in the Fire.Drums and Guns
, the eighth full-length (and second for Sub Pop) from Minnesota trio Low
opens with the following words; "All the soldiers, they're all gonna die/All the little babies, they're all gonna die
". Make no mistake about it, Drums and Guns
is a real downer. Like their last album, The Great Destroyer
, Drums and Guns
was produced by Dave Fridmann (Mercury Rev
, The Flaming Lips
). Unlike The Great Destroyer
, however, Drums and Guns
sees Low returning to their minimalist roots while still breaking new ground. The Great Destroyer
was a wildly varied record (especially by Low standards) that made use of a number of different textures and song structures. Drums and Guns
continues this policy of trying new things, but sounds far different to anything that The Great Destroyer
The album's 13 cuts consist of different experiments in minimalism that range from drum machines, organs, strings, uneasy droning noise, looped vocals, Radiohead-esque piano and the usual drums, guitars, bass and sparse vocal harmonies. It's this 'try anything' approach, along with its extremely dark nature that makes Drums and Guns
a difficult album and one that will undoubtedly take some time to grow on the ears of fans. The cold, electronic minimalism of a number of the album's tracks often sounds mechanical; more like Thom Yorke
's The Eraser
than the warm softness of such classic records as Long Division
. However, there's also a real human quality to the album, due in no small part to the gorgeous harmonies that have become trademark to Alan Sparhawk and Mimi Parker. This is also reflected in the album's artwork, which features a number of unprofessional looking photos of, unsurprisingly, drums and guns that are placed against the same simple backgrounds of red carpet and a brown floor.
As hinted at by its title, Drums and Guns
is a pretty bleak record. When he utters the first words of the album over the top of a drone of noise, Alan Sparhawk sounds like a man in a calm distress. The war theme, prevalent throughout the album's 13 tracks is most prominent on "Pretty People" (the opener) and "In Silence" ("They thought the desert would divide us"
). One track on, "Murderer" is a deeply disturbing story about exactly what its title suggests. "One more thing I'll ask you Lord/You made me a murderer/Someone to do your dirty work"
Sparhawk sings over the top of a haunting, but achingly beautiful backing of sustained bass, cautiously restrained drums and slowly shifting e-bow notes. Probably the album's most conventional track and least depressing, "Hatchet" is an off-beat love song that recalls sparse indie bands such as The Kills
. Finally, the album's closer, "Violent Past" is easily its most lush, with a distorted organ backed by a spare but atmospheric loop. More uplifting than the majority of other tracks, Sparhawk concludes "All I can do is fight"
. Only when the song fades out amidst a background of quiet noise is the impact of Drums and Guns
Eight albums into their career, Low certainly aren't slowing down. Drums and Guns
is vastly different from any of Low's earlier work. At times, it can be a difficult piece of work and its dark themes may require a few spins to grow on the listener. Irrespective, Drums and Guns
is a fine piece of work, Low's best since Things We Lost in the Fire
. Its 13 songs are extremely hard to fault and the emotion present throughout the record is inarguably intense. It may be a downer, but it will almost certainly prevail as one of Low's finest and proudest moments.
Not a bad song on the album
Can be a difficult record
The depressing nature of the album may alienate some listeners
Final Rating: 4/5