Hey What (Low) – music review

Hey What is the 13th studio album from Low, the curious noise band that juxtaposes challenging instrumentals against the sweet and often harmonious vocals of the married duo, Alan Sparhawk and Mimi Parker. Like much of the contemporary compositions made in “serious music” circles (think modern takes on classical), Low can sound discordant, chaotic, noisy. But unlike industrial rock bands in the vein of Nitzer Ebb that mimics the clanging and banging of the machine world, Low tends to favor the white noise and static of a failed radio signal, the low growling throb or the oscillating rotors of a wind machine.

Against and over these noisy sonic swaths, Sparhawk and Parker sing in classic choral style, sometimes using the effects and treatments of Auto-tune and other studio gimmicks to alter and intensify their voices. It’s an awkward blend, an acquired taste no doubt, but once you get a sense for the underlying artistic vision you will be more inclined to try and absorb the artful, at times overwhelming, noise-drenched musicality, so that you heed their request and “Don’t Walk Away.”

At times, you can actually suss out the instrument from which the sound swells originate, like the chunky organ in “All Night,” or the ferocious crunchy guitar bleeding feedback all over “More,” but mostly it could just as easily be a nondescript droning keyboard sound like that in the set closing “The Price You Pay (It Must Be Wearing Off).” While these intense sonic experiments are not for the timid, the hymnic quality of the vocals in “Days Like This,” and sprinkled throughout the albums ten tracks, produced by BJ Burton who’s worked with Bon Iver, as well as folk like Lizzo and Charli XCX.

While the lyrics tend to shape a vague sense of longing and yearning for meaning, it’s the underlying beauty of the singers’ voices set against the sturm und drang of the musical settings, perhaps to suggest the chaotic reality of life in the modern world, that gives Hey What its creative focus and meaning. Not for the faint of heart, surely, but an honest artful appraisal of life for many of us, you bet.

Brian Q. Newcomb
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