It’s difficult to know what to say about Double Negative – such is its extraordinary power. Low, a band now 12 albums in, have truly fulfilled their name and ambition in crafting raw and understated songs that hold their immense weight in the spaces between the sounds, yet continue to prove able to evolve. Aptly named and appropriately defined, Double Negative is a record that speaks to the times in the realization of its clever title – implying both inflated levels of gloom and the inverse positivity of its literary definition. Either way, the trio have created something heavy and fragile full of otherworldly echoes and gradual disintegration. Producer B.J. Burton was, by all accounts, intimately involved in the process, with “band and producer becoming collaborative co-writers, building the pieces up and breaking them down and building them again until their purpose and force felt clear.”
It’s an apt description, the final product seemingly reflecting the process and the tracks themselves break apart even as they are built. Husband and wife Alan Sparhawk and Mimi Parker’s distant harmonized vocals crystallize around the sparse arrangements, at times hauntingly beautiful as they pierce the drawn-out moments of silence, others struggling to be heard amidst swirling cacophonies of chaos. It’s a record as unstable as the world it rallies against and in that dissonance find a glimmer of hopeful purpose. Their mastery of dynamics and ability to restrain from rushing anything are in true form here and make the turbulence of tracks like ‘Tempest’ and ‘Poor Sucker’ that much more effective. The music floats through contemporary minimalism, as in the frayed loops that open the record on Quorum and bring to mind the work of William Basinski, to post-rock deluges of sound and nebulaic dream-pop that shimmers across tracks like the unexpectedly uplifting closer ‘Disarray’.
Really though, these are songs and an album that are almost impossible to describe, demanding to heard and experienced in their own right. Low are a band who reveal their adept musicianship through restraint and timing. As they’ve displayed time and again over the decades, both in the studio and on the stage, texture and atmosphere are the winners here. Like a great world-building author, the band deals with the chaos of the times by creating their own universe complete with its own laws on Double Negative. Truly immersive, even if a very difficult listen at times, it’s a record that draws you into its world of pain and sorrow – exposing the closed-off spaces within to raw emotion before releasing you to the necessary healing. It’s difficult to know what to add. As with Low’s spellbinding music, sometimes less is truly more.