When words like slow or minimalist are used to describe an album it can be off-putting for many listeners. Some might read those words as boring and repetitive. However misguided, it is a fair assumption. There are two types of listening — active and passive, and when an album maintains a moody, quiet atmosphere, such as Low’s “Ones and Sixes,” we must choose to do the former. That is, we should sit down and listen to the music rather than use it as background noise while we do the laundry.
This is not to disregard passive listening. Both have their place. One does not get amped for a hike up Mount Humphreys by listening to compositions by Philip Glass. Similarly, one does not attempt to relax by listening to Pantera. The beauty of music is its pliability. What’s more beautiful is its ability to fit just about any situation one might find themselves in.
With Low’s new album, “Ones and Sixes,” we are presented with the same qualities that brought the band to fame in the early 90’s: slow-moving songs with simple arrangements. “Ones and Sixes” is quite similar to Low’s earlier efforts such as “I Could Live in Hope” and “Secret Name,” maintaining their soft, ambient tone. What is different with Low’s latest LP is the dynamic quality of each song and the combination of simplistic indie rock with a contemporary electronic spin.
“Gentle,” the album’s opening track, smoothly fades in with an airy synthesizer. Shortly after, an industrial glitch-like drum pattern pounds through the synthesizer and presents itself for the listener to ride, and we do. As we ride, a bright keyboard accents the reverb-soaked vocals singing “careful, measure, torture, stable…” and, though it feels like floating, we are still grounded by the unyielding drumbeat. “Gentle,” as with many other tracks, grows and builds but it does so gradually and the end result feels like a different song even though the core components are the same.
Tracks like “Congregation” and “No Comprende” are reminiscent of 90’s trip-hop. Both ride on beats so infectiously groovy we forget about another quality which turns the songs on their heads when recognized: deeply personal lyrical content and haunting harmonies. Rather than riding on repetitive — albeit, catchy — grooves, the songs build upon that repetition and, for a brief moment, they evolve into loud crescendos that evaporate as quickly as they came.
Not every song feels like a gloomy bar scene in a David Lynch movie, though. “No End,” “Kid in the Corner,” and “What Part of Me” are faster and more upbeat, adding a different, much needed element to the album. Here is where Low’s style changes. The songs are tinged with a rich, pop feel but they are still entirely characteristic of the band. What’s more, they’re placed delicately throughout the album, allowing the listener a break from the slow churn-and-chug pacing.
“Ones and Sixes” is Low’s quiet exploration into minimalism. The result can feel repetitious until we peel apart and analyze the layers of each song. Granted, there aren’t many, but each layer is so carefully placed that the songs would not work if it were missing even one. Without actively listening to this album, many of the subtleties would go unnoticed. The layers would feel like wet blankets instead of warm sheets we could remove and wrap ourselves around.
The beauty in “Ones and Sixes” could also be its downfall. The interior world of the album is brooding and contemplative but it’s masked by a quiet front that doesn’t necessarily pull listeners in. Rather, it requires a willingness to step inside and if we don’t stop to be in that moment, however slow, however silent, we might miss it completely.
Info on the band: HERE
Stream the album: HERE