Review Summary: Low is swimming in new waters, and reaching new depths.
Low have made a large departure from their previous works on "Ones and Sixes," with absolutely stunning results. Gone are the days of the band performing with one guitar, one bass, one snare and a cymbal. Instead, Low has welcomed electronic elements into their small family, and the new sounds have found a way to amplify that slow-core sound the band has been pumping out for over twenty years now. It’s apparent even on first listen that the new production -- thanks largely to BJ Burton’s (Dark Bird is Home, Megafaun) production cues -- transforms Low's sound into something new, yet still decidedly Low. The paradox formed in this album's wake makes "Ones and Sixes" the most interesting album from the small Minnesota band to date.
The songs often use the same repeating drum lines as backbones, sometimes to a fault. On "Congregation," you may want to enjoy the Massive Attack-esque piano work, but the repeating snare drum kit really detracts from the sound. Thankfully, it’s one of the few times on the album where there is a real rub between the musical elements. Frequently using a blown-out speaker "electronic-meets-lo-fi" sound, the new production elements fit right at home with Low’s usual formula; lead singers Alan Sparhawk and Mimi Parker’s unembellished vocals (and pretty bland lyrics) with intriguing chord progressions and slow to moderate tempos, which has been the band’s bread and butter for over 20 years now. However, this new direction has sparked a new life into the band that any long-time listener will appreciate. Textures and atmospheres appear everywhere on "Ones and Sixes," scratching itches you didn’t even know you had with powerful electronic distortion or whistling synths filling in the gaps.
Changes aside, "Ones and Sixes" would not be anything to write about if the songs weren’t good to begin with. In the album’s nearly 60 minute and 12 track run time, Low have crafted some of their strongest and most diverse songs in years. The songs are not too interesting lyrically, falling back on repeated lines and even resorting to cliches at some points. Which is unfortunate, but any shortcomings here are more than made up for with everything else. Full of valleys and peaks, upbeat melodies and crashing waves, the music is beautiful, and it’s a very rewarding listen from front to back. Tracks like lead single "No Comprende" will surprise listeners with the impressive cinematic changes around two thirds of the way into the song, and then "Landslide," lurking towards the end of the album, will bring longtime fans in with the incredible chord progressions and bare production, reminiscent of "The Curtain hits the Cast." These songs aren’t going to approach the Top 40 anytime soon, but would rather be played for listeners that want a somber, personal experience, which explains why the songs lend themselves to headphones so well.
"Ones and Sixes" show Low embracing a new element of their band, and with all of the tweaks to their sound it is finally so much easier to see what made listeners prick up their ears over 20 years ago when they first heard "I Could Live in Hope." Low is swimming in new waters, and reaching new depths; which ultimately creates a welcome addition to a band's already impressive catalog.