Album of the Week: Low, 'Ones and Sixes'

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Low, 'Ones and Sixes'
Low, 'Ones and Sixes' (Sub Pop Records)

It feels like such a cliché to call an album the "best of a band's career," but I'm just going to go ahead and say it: Low's 11th album, Ones and Sixes, easily stands out as one of the finest of the band's 22-year career.

This is an album that cracks and sizzles, bursting with an electric energy and swelling into enormous, cavernous moments. Low frontman Alan Sparhawk called on producer BJ Burton to help him record the new record after they bonded over a shared appreciation of hip-hop. Though this is far from a rap record, Alan took a cue from the genre's ability to draw so much impact out of a few simple notes and sounds.

I have no idea what Ones and Sixes sounds like on anything other than headphones, because I've never had the desire to listen to it any other way. This is consuming, absorbing music, mixed to kick sounds through your skull, pulsing beats from left to right and then blowing the whole thing wide open with a massive bass drop. Moments later, you'll be left hanging on the sound of a single guitar note, wondering which underworld the band will lead you into next.

Even the noisier tracks on Ones and Sixes can be traced back to Sparhawk's electric guitar, which alternates between clean tones and cacophony. Parker's drums echo and boom like they're being played in Lake Superior's ice caves. Garrington pounds out a persistent, percussive bass. On dynamic songs like "Gentle" and "Landslide," you can't help but marvel: How are they even doing this?

"This one, I wanted both feet forward," Sparhawk told me in an interview recently. "Not one foot in the past, or one foot in that familiar sound. It's like, no, let's make new music."

After listening to Ones and Sixes again and again (and again), I can confirm that it's a goal that they've achieved triumphantly.

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