Low – Drums and Guns (Subpop) 2007


A friend of mine was reading this blog recently and mentioned that he thought that all I was going to post about was my thoughts on records that have a distinct lack of tune. I though that the Woods post indicated otherwise. He just grimmaced. I’m pretty sure he hates hippies as much as I do. So here we go, the most commercial release yet and an absolute cracker.

One of the many things that shits me abourt modern rock journalism is the lazy idea of everything having to be defined by a genre. In the olden days my local independent record store had a genre called punk/hardcore. Now selecting a record there was like russian roulette. Gallon Drunk was in the same section as Ministry, the Reverend Horton Heat and alterna-pop bands like Guv’ner and Air Miami. All a young consumer had to go on was the cover and the record label in order to figure out what the music sounded like (so shoot me I was shy – I wasn’t going to ask the ultra cool record shop staff to play something for me. Fuck they might think I was lame). Sometimes the record staff were good enough to stick the latest NME review to the front of the record to give the junior music junkie a fighting chance. It is for this reason that I became a follower of record labels. SST, Subpop, 4AD, Blast First, Touch and Go, Red Eye, Citadel, Cargo were all favourites. Most of them had a definite point of view or an aesthetic. Buying Subpop in the early 1990’s guaranteed a big bucket of grunge , SST was So-Cal punk all the way. The young music fan knew the genres and the labels and knew what what they were getting themselves in for. (Yes Doc I know Blast First released Sun Ra). But now the record label has become a useless indicator of a record’s content. Subpop now release Wolf Eyes and the Shins for fuck’s sake. So what about genres? Equally fucking meaning less.

I had stayed away from Low for years and only started dabbling in 2005. The genre scared me off. Slowcore. I mean what the fuck does that mean? Now to me, the description slowcore sounds like it should be hardcore music, like Fugazi for instance, but you know, played really slow. Let’s face it, that would be fucking great. Instead slowcore meant depressing, sparse and boring bands like Low and Codeine. Now as you can see I was a dismissive one towards the trio from Minnesota. Sure I’d see their stuff in my local record shop and thought, “now don’t you dare buy that mopey, pathetic, depressive shit, it’s not like you’re ever going to listen to it”. Well one day I was in a mopey, depressive, pathetic sort of mood and I was buying records and I thought fuck it I’m going to buy Low. And I’m glad I did.

There is a depth to what Low does that defies the limitation of the genre. Let’s steal some adjectives from allmusic.com shall we? Melancholy, brooding, sad, precious, plaintive, reflective, somber, reserved. These are all very good words to describe Low’s music but they don’t do Guns and Drums justice. I confess the big bucket of sad is still part of Low’s schtick but this album is set apart from their previous records by the sheer depth of the song writing and the minimalist production. Pretty People is a stark ode to the apocalypse and the inevitability of death. Breaker is my personal favourite. It is harrowing. A confessional first person cry of the soldier who doesn’t want to kill anymore. With backing of little more than hand claps, muffled electronic beats and organ, Alan Sparhawk sings: All the bodies break and the blood just spills and spills, but here we sit debating math / it’s just a shame, my hand just kills and kills, there has to be an end to that.

But what makes this the best Low album is that it is the least Low-like album they have every done. The two person harmonies are front and centre but there is a reason for the record’s title. The songs are driven by percussive electronic loops which give the music a coldness and distant feel. Yet the vocals bring the warmth and the songs are fleshed out with feedback and guitar squalls. There is a delightful minimalism to what Low do on this record and how many bands can attest to their best record being their eighth. (certainly not fucking David Bowie).

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