Low
Hey What


4.5
superb

Review

by Sunnyvale CONTRIBUTOR (45 Reviews)
September 13th, 2021 | 45 replies


Release Date: 09/10/2021 | Tracklist

Review Summary: The marriage of heaven and hell (or something like that)

As long-running legends within the slowcore scene, it’s either appropriate or unsurprising that Low hails from northern Minnesota. Their home region is one of the most frigid places in the continental USA during the winter, and this seems to have translated to the band’s glacial song paces and brittle emotional resonance. Overall, Low have managed to accomplish two rare things as a band. First, they’ve crafted an extensive discography without any true missteps, and second, they make music that really sounds like no-one else.

With all that said, a music fan discussing Low a few years ago would be forgiven for stating that the group’s best years were behind them. After 2002’s Trust , or arguably even 2001’s Things We Lost In The Fire , the following series of albums, while competent and sometimes even more, generally failed to reach the regular heights which Low had scaled in their (alleged) prime. 2018’s Double Negative , though, was a shock to the system, seeing Low strike out for something new (granted, there were indications on their previous album) with its focus on noisy electronic influences (with occasional moments of their traditional sound). While the album wasn’t universally loved (and in fact, I can’t say I really “get” a lot of it), this effort certainly saw the band at their most relevant in over a decade. Indeed, for many Double Negative ranked up alongside the band’s traditionally identified classics, albeit just different in vibe.

This may seem like a lot of backstory for a review of the aggressively-titled HEY WHAT , but it feels necessary. There’s really no discussion of the new record without referring to its predecessor, given it’s fair to describe HEY WHAT as a continuation of Double Negative , even if that’s a little simplistic. In reality, it appears Low took some key lessons from their play with a new sonic palette, and then retreated a bit from it, moving towards a more even duality between the abrasive collection of noise/electronic stylings which the last album explored and the subdued slowcore/indie/ambient sound the group has long trafficked in. With this choice, the band is playing with fire, as the potential pitfalls are widespread and easy to envision. Nonetheless, Low is perhaps the ideal band to attempt this, what with their long history of getting the most out of subtle (and many would say, often boring) soundscapes. Beyond that, even in their youthful I Could Live In Hope days, the band was capable of threading a tightrope of sound and atmosphere. In particular, a classic like “Sunshine” comes to mind, the stunning beauty and innocence of the piece only adding to its inherently eerie, creepy vibe. What I’m trying to say is that, while the sound Low is fiddling with here is often dramatically different than what they were doing in their ‘90s heyday, the band is still comfortable with molding what should theoretically be oppositional forces into something unique.

“White Horses” is a great choice for the opener, simultaneously being both one of the album’s best tracks and solid introduction to the sounds that this edition of Low is exploring. Caustic electronics begin the tune, before the (typically stunning) vocals begin to soar over a menacing sonic backdrop. Lines like “still white horses take us home” leave much up to interpretation, whether this signifies a dirge or a song of triumph amidst the apocalyptic backdrop remains unclear. A repetitious conclusion slides effortlessly into the next track, “I Can Wait”, with its manically angelic vocals.

The rest of the record is a diverse bunch, if united by the curious fusions Low are dedicated to here. There are long-form tracks like “Hey” and the post-rock-tinged closer, a noisy short piece in the form of “More” which sees the instrumentals and the vocals cranked up to their most aggressive, and a couple comparatively mellow pieces, “Days Like These” and “Don’t Walk Away”, which lean more towards ambient pop, despite the jagged electronic pulses which periodically interrupt the former. In general, Low utilizes quiet sections and lengthy instrumental stretches, with the gorgeous vocals appearing only sparingly. This isn’t really a new innovation, the band has always relied on frequently restrained dynamics, and even the artist name seems to hint at this sort of thing. Nonetheless, this helps imbue the listener with the predominant sensation this album leaves behind: a feeling of being caught in a blizzard, a cauldron of billowing snow and shrieking winds (ominously bolstered by the non-descript cover art). Every now and again, there’s a brief respite provided by a mellower musical segment or the entrance of a shining vocal line, which suggests a moment of calm within the storm, or the sound of a loved one hollering into the maelstrom, trying to help. Then it’s back into the chaos, dragged back in through sinister blasts of sound, even as hints of somber beauty remain.

HEY WHAT isn’t quite a perfect album, with a few transitions which come off as overly jarring and a handful of experimental moments which don’t do much for me. Nonetheless, after a few listens to allow the complexities and atmosphere to sink in, it emerges that this is a towering career highlight for a band which already has a fair amount of trophies on their wall. At turns comforting and unsettling, but always intriguing, this is a masterful incorporation of potentially-clashing soundscapes, and ultimately represents another must-listen release from one of indie’s most acclaimed groups.



Recent reviews by this author
Heartless Bastards A Beautiful LifeRuby Haunt Watching the Grass Grow
James McMurtry The Horses and the HoundsVillagers Fever Dreams
Unreqvited Beautiful GhostsLaura Stevenson Laura Stevenson
user ratings (84)
3.9
excellent
other reviews of this album
Alec L. Critten (3.5)
The noise is here to stay (but that's not necessarily a bad thing)...



Comments:Add a Comment 
Sunnyvale
Contributing Reviewer
September 13th 2021


2745 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

This album's been growing on me like crazy, probably will be top 10 for year. Hopefully I did it justice!

normaloctagon
September 13th 2021


6259 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

just finished listening to this and loooved it



great review as always

Sunnyvale
Contributing Reviewer
September 13th 2021


2745 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

Thanks @normaloctagon!



Glad you're enjoying, just a great great record

nilsson
September 13th 2021


48 Comments


Very nice review. I've never listened to a single Low record, is this a good place to start?

parksungjoon
September 13th 2021


35441 Comments


check I Could Live in Hope


Digging: Controlled Bleeding - Distress Signals

Pikazilla
September 13th 2021


18811 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

check their whole discog

Sunnyvale
Contributing Reviewer
September 13th 2021


2745 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

Thanks @nilsson! Regarding your question, I'd echo park, I Could Live In Hope is a popular pick for their best and closer to their typical sound

nilsson
September 13th 2021


48 Comments


Cool, thanks dudes.

xxm
September 13th 2021


232 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0

Wonderful review of a wonderful album.

Sunnyvale
Contributing Reviewer
September 13th 2021


2745 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

Thanks @xxm!

xxm
September 13th 2021


232 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0

You are most welcome!

Sowing
Moderator
September 13th 2021


39049 Comments


first time ever listening to Low

this is very weird, why does every song sound like it's being sung through a desk fan

Digging: Other Lives - For Their Love

Ryus
September 13th 2021


25322 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

sowing check the debut for spirit-crushing beautiful soft slowcore

Digging: Samurai Breaks - TURBO RAVE ARTILLERY

Frippertronics
Staff Reviewer
September 13th 2021


19439 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0

Their records for a while have been going for an international brickwalled sound. Also check Curtain Hits the Cast

Digging: Low - Hey What

Sunnyvale
Contributing Reviewer
September 13th 2021


2745 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

That make me chuckle, Sowing. Honestly though, while I can see you eventually appreciating this one, it probably isn't the best first entry point. As Ryus said, the debut or even one of their other 90s albums might be more easily accessible for you.

Sowing
Moderator
September 13th 2021


39049 Comments


I kind of dig this

Production is just strange that's all

JohnnyoftheWell
Staff Reviewer
September 13th 2021


40822 Comments


check Ones and Sixes and esp Double Negative if you wanna get the full sense of where this sound comes from, but you probs owe it to yourself to hear the debut and Things We Lost In The Fire asap if this is your first Low. both wonderful albums

Digging: Trophy Scars - Astral Pariah

Sunnyvale
Contributing Reviewer
September 13th 2021


2745 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

@Sowing, definitely agree with all of Johnny's recommendations, especially Things We Lost In The Fire. That album is one of Low's best and also maybe their most immediately accessible.

loveisamixtape
September 13th 2021


10813 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

i like double negative a little more bc the strong songs are a bit stronger but this is great

Dewinged
Staff Reviewer
September 14th 2021


25608 Comments

Album Rating: 4.4

Great review Sunny, the album is a grower indeed.

Digging: Anette Olzon - Strong



You have to be logged in to post a comment. Login | Create a Profile





FAQ // STAFF & CONTRIBUTORS // SITE FORUM // CONTACT US

Bands: A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z


Site Copyright 2005-2019 Sputnikmusic.com
All Album Reviews Displayed With Permission of Authors | Terms of Use | Privacy Policy