Wednesday, April 04, 2007

They Filled Our Hearts And Hands With Violence

Drums and Guns, the newest release by Duluth, Minnesota's Low, is a bleak affair. It cracks and wheezes and drones like a post-apocalyptic fever dream with oddly fragile harmonies that conjure Exene and John Doe as zombies. As sonic experimentation, the record is a complete success. This was definitely engineered with the headphones in mind, and there are enough drum loops and electronic effects to garner favorable comparisons to latter-day Radiohead. But if you were expecting Low to progress further into the pool of accessibility that surprised so many their last time out (on The Great Destroyer), you might be disappointed. The songs on Drums and Guns are sparse and depressing, and they come up on you like dark, impressionistic clouds across the horizon, each portending some inarticulable doom. In that sense, the record makes a more than adequate audio companion to Cormac McCarthey's The Road.

TTT poster "Shaun Bateman" referred to the record as "surreal," which is accurate. That tone is set immediately with "Pretty People," on which we learn that all the soldiers, little babies, poets, liars, and "all you pretty people, are all gonna die." Of course, this isn't new information, but it's unsettling that band leader Alan Sparhawk may somehow know when this will all come to pass. "Breaker," which suggests political editorial, sounds like a church choir that missed the rapture and is left behind to ponder that "Our bodies break / and the blood just spills and spills / But here we sit debating math." The slow industrial loop that runs throughout the quiet "Dragonfly" reeks of dread and sounds infinitely more ominous than anything that could ever be expressed by Nine Inch Nails, who are a little cartoonish by comparison. "In Silence," from which the title of this post is taken, is a favorite, perfectly conjuring that post-millenium tension on a cinematic level: "They thought the desert would divide us . . . It's time to put the fields behind us."

I could go on, but I think you probably get the picture. With song titles like "Murderer," "Violent Past," and "Hatchet," you can probably guess that Drums and Guns is not a record you are likely to walk around whistling cheerily, but on a literary sort of level, it's most satisfying. Listening to it is a little like reading a book; it has that feel of a private endeavor. In other words, you're probably not going to throw this on at your next dinner party. "Hatchet," I should mention, actually serves to lighten the overall mood somewhat, with the singer suggesting that he and some unnamed antagonist "bury the hatchet like the Beatles and the Stones." Is Low feuding with Oasis again?

All said, Drums and Guns is probably not for everybody, but if you're in the mood for a slightly nightmarish wasteland, you will find none more interesting than this.

MP3: Low - "Breaker" from Drums and Guns
MP3: Low - "Take Your Time" from Drums and Guns

Want more? Head on over to The Smudge of Ashen Fluff for Low's in-studio performance of four tracks from Drums and Guns on Minnesota Public Radio.