Dusted Reviews

Low - Drums and Guns

today features
reviews charts
labels writers
info donate

Search by Artist

Sign up here to receive weekly updates from Dusted

email address

Recent Reviews

Dusted Reviews

Artist: Low

Album: Drums and Guns

Label: Sub Pop

Review date: Mar. 28, 2007

Drums and guns. Guns and drums. The eighth full-length from the band that, arguably, invented slo-core comes with an extravagantly produced booklet, some 20 full, four-color pages of photos, with a drum on the left panel and some sort of gun on the right. (Some of the drums are drum machines, but you get the idea.) There's no copy on these pages – though there would be plenty of room for lyrics – just the photos. Short of knocking you over the head with a rifle butt, or a drum stick, it's hard to imagine the soft-spoken people of Low making their message more blatant. The dual, linked themes of violence and percussion pervade this haunting, mostly down-tempo album, giving its dreamy, sustained melodies and angelic harmonies a focal point.

Low's last album, 2005's The Great Destroyer veered into rock catharsis; this one steps back from that endeavor and returns to the quiet intensity of Things We Lost in the Fire. Lovely "Dragonflys" intoxicates with slow-moving, close-pitched harmonies, Alan Sparhawk's falsetto joined to Mimi Parker's even higher soprano in unearthly intervals, the motion of the song hardly perceptible as it drifts from phrase to phrase. And late album highlight "Murderer" floats weightlessly on swished cymbal rhythms, Sparhawk's dark verse embellished with Parker's wordless, extended "ohs.”

The songs are so slow, so elementally built out of a few notes and images, that they might easily sag, and yet there's a fair amount of drama to Drums and Guns. That supressed excitement comes, I think, from the two elements of the title.

Let's take the drums, first, because they're an essential reason why this album works so well. Whether working with glitchy electronic beats or organic textures of snare and cymbal, Parker has created a distinct, very interesting rhythmic background. Consider the single "Breaker," which, for nearly a full minute, is nothing but a staccato R&B beat and droning organ notes. The beat, clearly digital, gives shape and architecture, breaking the long tones and free-flowing harmonies into distinct packets. The song would be quite pretty without it, but with the beat, the melody gains a sense of urgency. Similarly on "Hatchet," bass, drums and funk-inspired guitar create a spare rhythmic canvas for Low's relatively simple song structure. Without that sense of pulse and restraint, there would be no tension. The song's definitely a goof, with its refrain "Let's bury the hatchet / Like the Beatles and the Stones," but it has an indefinable sense of menace because of the rhythms. The drums (along with bass from Matt Livingston) turn polyrhythmic and African on "Always Fade," turning another dreamy progression of long notes into something hedonistic.

The drums give this album movement, but it's the lyrics that lend it brooding weight. As a suite, these songs explore all varieties of violence, both political and personal. It's obliquely anti-war in parts – opener "Pretty People" observes that "all the pretty people are going to die,” the marching drums of "Sandinista" asks "What would you do if the gun fell in your hands?" Yet the most affecting considerations of violence are interpersonal. "Murderer" and "Violent Past" are hallucinatory explorations of the one-on-one violence that we're all capable of and that we carry within us. We may not be carrying grenades to Baghdad personally, but anyone "may need a murderer / someone to do your dirty work."

Drums and Guns has a sparse, understated beauty to it, electronically-generated rhythms under otherworldly harmonies, and subtle violence buried in the words. It's dark, lovely and slow to blossom, but leaves an impression once it does. Here are uneasy beauties, shot with anxiety but transported by harmony, Low's meditation on disturbing times.

By Jennifer Kelly

Other Reviews of Low


The Great Destroyer


The Invisible Way

Read More

View all articles by Jennifer Kelly

Find out more about Sub Pop

©2002-2011 Dusted Magazine. All Rights Reserved.