1 Low: HEY WHAT (Greatest Album of 2021)

2018 #3

It’s probably too late now, isn’t it? For you, I mean. This is it in your life. How old are you? Older than those kids you see on YouTube and on TikTok. What are you even doing watching YouTube and TikTok?? Both of those things are full of vitality and with ruthless optimism! Neither of those things are for you. How old did you say you were, I must have missed that? 28? Nah, dude, you’ve just not been counting recently, because your life is now a dehumanising repetition of routines and obligations, you’re actually 32 now. Shit, no, because of your meaningless demands and crushing inevitabilities, you couldn’t find time to read that last sentence all at once, you’re now 44. Shit! You’re now in your fifties!

That’s you, that is

It’s over though, right? Seriously, if you haven’t worked out your entire life by aged 21 you’re too late, and whatever you’re doing now – whatever you are – is officially set for all time. The only ‘change’ that is now permitted is a occasional change in the brand of washing up liquid you buy. And is that even allowed?? What will people say?? That person who works at the checkout counter in Tesco, the one you now know by name, what will they say?? No, you’re too old to be doing shit like this, people will mock you behind your back, say that you don’t even realise how monstrously old and past your prime you are. Put the washing up liquid back, Thomas, say in your fucking lane. Your past the era of change now, this thing now, these cruxes you’ve built to support yourself, these crosses that you’ve accepted to bear, this is your everything and shall always be. This is your life.

Someone called Thomas has got to read that at some point, right? Bet they’re pretty freaked out now. But I am actually talking to you, Thomas. Sort your fucking life out, yeah?

The band Low will have been going for thirty years in 2023. For perhaps the first twenty five years of their existence, it seemed obvious what their ‘thing’ was, what their ‘career’ was, what their ‘life’ was. They initially stood out as a counterpoint to Grunge – because they started back when Grunge was actually a ‘thing’ – playing songs that were almost unbelievably slow and quiet. They seemed so singular and out of place that people were even inspired to invent a genre – ‘slowcore’, a label the band obviously dislike – just to fit this bizarre and otherworldly music into. Oh, and they also proved themselves curiously adept at singing Christmas songs. Curiously? Maybe not, they’re seemingly quite into the whole ‘birth of Jesus’ flex. Anyway, Low were different, but they wee recognisable, we knew what they did, we knew who they were.

But then, 25 years into their career, their twelfth album ‘Double Negative‘ blew everyone away. Even in a twenty year span that included Radiohead’s ‘Kid A’, Bon Iver’s increasing movements into different soundscapes, and scores of other bands releasing work that was them apparently ‘going electronic’, no other musical transformation was quite as outstanding and lead to such different yet so successful results. And no other album introduced such a radical change. ‘Double Negative’ managed to take so many inspirations from modern pop music – pitch shifting vocals, digital manipulation, etc – and tried to make them work in rock music. And I don’t mean some tiny ‘influences’ creeping in here and there – if you want that, listen to the band’s previous album, 2015’s ‘Ones and Sixes‘ – but a complete and extreme overhaul of their sound. Sure, it blew everyone away, but they’ve got to split up now, right? How is it even possible to follow that??

They did so by not being satisfied with only overhauling their own sound. They wanted to redefine what rock music itself could sound like. ‘HEY WHAT’ is what rock music would sound like if someone only had ‘Double Negative’ for inspiration. While the band’s previous album was above all an electronica record, ‘HEY WHAT’ is the sound of a human who had just come down from a life expanding acid trip where they saw and understood the sounds that make up ‘Double Negative’ and now wanted to make a rock album based on the visions they had. Where the previous album’s goal seemed mainly to experiment and to shock, ‘HEY WHAT’ is the band utilising the things they learned and attempting to make regular rock music after this life changing epiphany. They fail, of course. There’s nothing here that sounds remotely like regular music. ‘Regular rock music’ still sounds like it was made in the 1970s at best and the freaking 50s at worse. There have been next to no serious attempts to push the form forward. We’ve had rock music influenced by electronica, rock music influenced by hip-hop, rock music influenced by Mariachi… But it all still sounds the same. It all still sounds like rock music, only sometimes we might be thrown a track that isn’t rock music at all to satiate us and compel us to believe that this is ‘the future’. ‘Kid A’ might throw an ambient Treefingers at us, but the heavy chords on Optimistic still show how the album is still 1960s rock and roll at heart. It’s amazing, don’t get me wrong, but it’s not the future, it’s rock music influenced by other things.

‘HEY WHAT’ is the real fucking deal though. This is music discovered as a message from undiscovered galaxies, this is what rock music should sound like after fifty fucking years of evolution. Right now, it sounds like nothing else, but also what everything else should sound like. It’s beyond what I previously believed humans to be capable of. It’s the best album of 2021, it’s the best album of this young decade and might not be bettered. It’s up there with the best albums of the 21st century. It’s everything.

Low are Alan Sparhawk (52 years old) and Mimi Parker (55 years old). They are married with two children, and are practising Mormons. Don’t come at them – or me (teacher in his 20s, changed to immigration advisor in his thirties) – with your ‘too old to change’ bullshit.

I love you all.


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