The earliest recordings by Low now sound like faded memories, snapshots of a band that would reach its creative apex later in life. Where some artists grow softer and more introspective as they age, the Minnesota-based trio of guitarist Alan Sparhawk, drummer Mimi Parker, and bassist Steve Garrington has darted into another direction entirely.
Over the past decade, notably since signing to Sub Pop Records, Low has been unrelenting in shaking loose of its initial association as a somnambulistic ensemble. The common, and not altogether accurate, description for them was lullabies for the disenchanted. Lately, though, Low has been hungry, not just to explore new sonic ideas but to blend them with everything it has already accomplished. Only with some hindsight do we see just how meticulously the band has built its arc.
Arriving on Friday, “Ones and Sixes” is a watershed moment for Low, the culmination of more than two decades toiling on the outskirts of mainstream rock in pursuit of its own muse. The album is assured and seductive, to the point that the despair underpinning so many of the songs isn’t immediately obvious.
“All you innocents make a run for it” goes the opening salvo of “The Innocents,” with the close harmonies of Parker and Sparhawk, who are married, sounding as serene as a Hallmark greeting. It lulls you into a false sense of security.
“Ones and Sixes” hinges on tension that courses throughout these 12 songs. The drums land with a thud, as if transferred from modern R&B and hip-hop. They anchor songs that crackle with bits of distortion and chiming guitars that somehow feel disembodied from everything surrounding them. Then, in keeping with a signature Low move, there is the spectral spark created by Parker and Sparhawk singing together; their alchemy is otherworldly and downright intoxicating.
The album is also shot through with surprises. The propulsive glide of “Kid in the Corner” is a joyful shock to the system, at least from a band renowned for its stark minimalism. And the windswept desolation of “Landslide” is nearly 10 minutes of wordless evocation, an invitation to let the mind wander — and see how the heart follows.
ESSENTIAL “The Innocents”
Low performs at Brighton Music Hall on Sept. 23.James Reed can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.