Review Summary: Low try to invoke sympathy with melancholy vocals and sparse arrangements, but in the end, it's just too hard to care.Long Division
by Minnesota slowcore legends Low frustrates me to no end. Listening to the album in full, I find myself either chillingly engulfed by the smallest of climaxes or spacing out for songs on end, as Low treads the line between hypnotic and dull a little too cavalierly for their intended purpose. Low was formed in 1993 with Alan Sparhawk, Mimi Parker, and John Nichols with an intention of being extremely minimalist in setup and musical arrangements. On their second album, Low achieve said minimalism quite capably- though not always interestingly. At only twelve tracks, Long Division
becomes exhaustive as songs slowly blur together with the album’s meandering pacing and eerily similar arrangements. Tracks that in reality are 4 or 5 minutes soon feel like 7 or 8 as Low refuses to go anywhere in terms of instrumentation, vocals, dynamics, anything. While Long Division
has its fair share of frigidly mesmerizing songs, it also shows Low chilling out too much for their own good, with results uncomfortably similar to watching a glacier melt.
While some modern post rock acts cite Low as an influence, don’t be fooled: Long Division
neither contains the intensity or the repressed tension of albums such as 55:12
or Ghastly City Sleep
, instead coming off calm and distant, which kills much of the intimacy the aforementioned albums nail so beautifully. This is no fault of the vocal interplay between Sparhawk and Parker, however, as their tones are absolutely gorgeous together. The ethereal opener “Violence” drones hypnotically, Sparhawk and Parker singing the song’s main hook “You can’t trust violence” with an aesthetical melancholy, perfectly in tune with the slight country twinge in their voices. The song’s apex provides one of the most powerful moments on the record, with the volume only growing from soft to somewhat-soft, Sparhawk and Parker developing a frighteningly angry feel before recessing into the chilled atmosphere. “Violence” embodies what Long Division
tries to be: drawling and mesmerizing, using very little to accomplish a whole lot. Unfortunately for Low, the rest of the album can’t follow suit.
The majority of Long Division
attempts to work similarly to “Violence”, with consistently lesser-than results. Songs such as “Turn” and “Swingin’” are as thoroughly uninteresting as their titles, the former replacing spacey reverb-heavy guitars with a stuttering strut that lacks any hint of attitude. “Swingin’,” on the other hand, sounds optimistic yet comes off banal, Sparhawk chanting “And I’m swingin’ so high,” failing at making the listener care. Indeed, most of Long Division
attempts to play to the listener’s pathos, dwelling stubbornly in sadness, but the lack of relatability or even sheer quality
makes finding sympathy for the plight Sparhawk tries to convey maddeningly difficult. The pacing of Long Division
does the album no favors either, as the record comes off sounding so impenetrably long and cold, finding the effort to listen to the music proves an unwelcome challenge.
That’s not to say the entire record is bad, either. Patient listeners are rewarded by the refreshingly brief “Take”, who, at only two and a half minutes, does what most of Long Division
should have been doing: being concise. The epic minimalism with not a change to be had proves Long Division
’s greatest flaw, which unfortunately detracts from would-be album highlights like “Caroline” and “Stay”. Thus, tracks that cut themselves short of the four minute mark prove the record’s best songs, such as the absolutely beautiful “Shame”. Driven by a mysterious sounding arpeggiated guitar lick and Parker’s sparse percussion (her drum setup for the entire album consists of a cymbal and a floor tom), Parker leads the track with morose vocals that, like “Violence”, nail Low’s objective magnificently. Sparhawk’s equally depressed watery guitar lick delivers the heartstring-tugging backing, blending all of Low’s assets- dejected vocals, airy guitar, sparse production, and thankfully short song length- to make the best song on Long Division
. Some sharper judgment would have benefitted Low greatly here, but since Long Division
is left to meander aimlessly at times, it proves a frustrating listen that in the end will give any listener a newfound appreciation for the bass drum.