When a band has been a going concern for a certain amount of time, then it’s fair to expect them to coast through life. As a fan you can accept this occurrence as inevitability, and you can weigh your enjoyment of anything they release against this.
Reaching their quarter of a century in 2018, Low have been somewhat guilty of coasting in recent times. C'mon and The Invisible Way were two releases that felt like they were made by a band in cruise control – by no means poor albums, but ones that didn't add anything new to the Duluth trio's oeuvre. On Double Negative they tear the script up; it is not only their most experimental album to date, it is also their most vital. More importantly, it is also their best.
For a band whose central tenet was always the otherworldly interplay between dual vocalists Alan Sparhawk and Mimi Parker, Double Negative is a brave offering. It pushes said interplay firmly into the background, burying it underneath layers of feedback and crushing percussion, and barely letting it above ground to breathe.
One could argue that out of the four key conspirators who have worked on the album, it is Alan and Mimi who are the least central to its sound, despite being the song-writing duo; the work of multi-instrumentalist Steve Garrington and that of producer B.J Burton is much more prominent in the foreground. Burton himself is, for all intents and purposes, a full member of the band on Double Negative in the same way that Tim Freise-Greene was on Talk Talk's latter albums, so pivotal is his treatment.
Nowhere is this truer than on 'Tempest', where modest vocal harmonies are stretched out in an awkwardly distorted auto-tune and beaten down by a punishing bass line that fills the majority of the song's headspace. There are some easy and half-accurate reference points here: mid-period Radiohead and Bon Iver circa 22, A Million - the latter of which also featured the input of producer B.J Burton - are two, yet the way Low bring everything together in such a desperate, cloistering way is entirely unique.
'Fly', the final track of the triptych that introduces the album, is both minimalist and maximalist; a haunting vocal melody that harks back to the band's early slowcore days and completely obscured in an uncomfortably modern sense of foreboding, is built up of God knows how many layers of instrumentation and off-white noise.
It is here that Low are at their most irresistible, not necessarily ripping up their original calling card but addressing it for a completely different context. It is here that Low proudly declare that, this far down the line since their inception, they won't do what is expected of a band of such maturity. Here's to the next twenty-five years.