“Before it falls into total disarray,
you’ll have to learn to live a different way”
Low – Disarray
This is a love story of sorts. Unlike most love stories, or the good ones at least, it begins at a student party. It was one of the first times I recall ever consciously trying to flirt with someone. The first time I’d seen someone I found attractive at a party, and decide to go talk to them with a little hope, if not expectation, that they might think the same of me.
That I was 21 at the time, tells you a lot about me. A shy boy, lacking in confidence, assuming always that no-one could be attracted to me. Still, I tried my best to talk to this girl. mainly about music of course, as it was all that I really knew back then. She mentioned being a massive fan of the band Low, and a little fragment of memory from the back of my brain kicked in, hearing one of their songs on the John Peel show back in my bedroom in my mother’s home, maybe 1997 or 1998 (possibly Condescend, I’m not so sure). One of the many bands I had taken note of, sworn to investigate further but never quite got round to. I tried to spin this minimal knowledge into the idea I was also a huge fan
This scrap of knowledge was, unsurprisingly, not enough to make up for my rudimentary conversational skills and lack of confidence, and I left the party alone, no doubt feeling a little sorry for myself. This girl was a friend of a friend, and I hoped I hadn’t come across too eager, in case our paths should cross again.
As it happened, our paths did cross a few weeks later at our indie club of choice, Manchester’s Ritz, all bouncy dancefloor and dark corridors, and to my surprise she had a gift for me, pulling out of her bag a C90 cassette with Low’s Things We Lost In The Fire album copied onto one side, their Secret Name album copied onto the other. I was surprised she even remembered our conversation, but clearly the urge to share this music was strong.
I listened to that cassette the next morning, slightly hungover, half expecting the disappointment of an album or band that doesn’t live up to the promise of the one song you know, but I couldn’t have been more wrong. From the opening Sunflower, I was captivated. Two of the most beautiful voices I had ever, singing sparse, fragile songs of transcendent beauty, unlike anything I had heard before (or since, for that matter). Dinosaur Act, Lazer Beam, Starfire, In Metal. So many songs that remain an important part of my life to this day. I may not have gotten the girl, but I had fallen in love with Low.
I’ve followed Low ever since, every album subtly different, each bringing fresh delights. I have been lucky enough to see them live a couple of times too, and revelled in the experience of hundreds of people in rapt silence, during the quietest, most intense moments of their sets. But until recently it has been those first two albums that I return to the most, that rush of first love being hard to match. I own them in other formats now, but when I play them I always expect to hear that tape hiss before Sunflower kicks in, and I’m always surprised to hear Will The Night and Home as they didn’t quite fit onto the cassette.
I perhaps started to take Low’s quiet excellence for granted in recent years, but in 2018 they surprised and delighted me in a way that is rare for any band to do, especially a band a quarter of a century into their existence. Back in June they released a triptych of songs, Quorum/Dancing & Blood/Fly from their upcoming album ‘Double Negative’. The songs retained the gorgeous, direct melodies that characterise their finest work , but distorted, warped and melded with a musical backing that combined elements of modern classical, electronic and avant-garde to produce an album like nothing I had ever heard, from Low or any other band. They had hinted at this direction on previous albums such as ‘Ones and Sixes’ and ‘Drums and Guns’, but had never quite thrown themselves into it so boldly
I listened to those three songs again and again and again, waiting for the full album to be released in September. I awaited Double Negative more eagerly than any album for many years. Anticipation has the habit to set you up for disappointment, as a certain Yorkshire band once sang, but Double Negative was anything but disappointing. Sure those first three songs were wonderful, but so were “Always Trying To Work It Out” and “Dancing and Fire” and especially the closing Disarray. Together these songs made a perfect record for our times, the sound of the end of the world, but somehow in those melodies a glimmer of hope, a glimmer we desperately need. “Before it falls into total disarray, You’ll have to learn to live a different way”, may not be a hopeful message as such, but one that recognises at least that there is a different way, that another world is possible.
Double Negative was certainly my favourite album of 2018, if not the decade, and my love for Low is stronger than ever. They hold a place in my heart that only a handful of artists can match, and of those I have loved for as long, I can think of none still producing such wonderful, challenging music. This love story is one with a happy ending.
Why not head over to Low’s website and buy Double Negative for yourself. Or if you’re new to Low completely, have a listen to my Spotify playlist of some of my favourite songs of theirs below: