The minimalist veterans are back restraining their outward energy but grinding the internal millstone on their newest effort, Drums and Guns. Low went a bit poppy/mainstream (for them at least) with their last effort The Great Destroyer, but now it is back to bleak with Drums and Guns, “All the soldiers/are all gonna die, all the babies/are all gonna die” opens the disk on “Pretty People” and that pretty much sums it up. War and death are first and foremost on songwriter Alan Sparhawk’s mind, and most of the tracks are as barren as the Duluth winters with Alan and his wife Mimi’s extended voices providing the lone accompaniment over sparse backing. Surprisingly when more instrumentation pops up like the maracas and drum loops on “Always Fade” the tracks tend to suffer along with the theme.
The middle of the album increases the instrumentation with the catchy, single sounding “Hatchet” but the oft keyed piano and echo voice effects on “Take Your Time” take up too much time, period. The last two tracks are the most complete with the rising cymbals in “Murderer” taking dirty work to bloody ends, and the distorted organ of “Violent Past” trying to explain the present darkness away, both successes. Low has made an unsettling album with Drums and Guns, and you get the feeling that is exactly what they wanted. Unfortunately it is too uneven from song to song to go with the odd production (99% of the vocals are in the right channel which makes for an disjointed headphone listen, if this was done for a reason it escapes me) making Drums and Guns feel more like a transitional album then a complete package.