I was high as a kite but the guy next to me was higher. I weaved in and out of neighborhoods and got the feeling that I was looking for something I couldn’t name. Whatever it was, it needed the music to be on and loud. The night sky was bleached with a blanket of grey clouds and LA’s streetlights gave everything an eerie orange haze. We were just two stupid teens living in the land of a million secrets, looking for a buzz, dreaming about nothing in particular.
Somehow that night, we ended up parking my classic 1989 Honda Accord (airbag-free with “Toyota” stamped backwards into the front bumper) and transferring the night into a non-descript Mercedes SUV. Inside were two friends of friends — both looked so outlandishly native to southern California, they came off like caricatures of themselves. “You’re gonna dig this,” one of them said to us. “It’s ‘slowcore’.”
The speakers of the car lurched and “Haywire” by Bedhead had the speakers rollicking. The two in the front splashed around in their seats to the music while we in the back stared staggered. I can’t speak for my friend, but for some reason I instantly sobered up. The music was good, not great, but even so it offered a great aesthetic. Self-deprecating, mumbling, and spontaneous: three things I was excellent at being while in high school.
“Sometimes,” Mr. Frontseat added, “you just want to hear music that makes you feel worse than you really do.”
So I looked into the band and its genre, which led me to Low’s Long Division. As far as slowcore goes, this is probably the slowest. Where Bedhead focuses more on a wistful shove towards pity, Low’s aesthetic is grand and atmospheric, building up barely-there crescendos until a whispered climax nudges you into a deep melancholia. Emo kids, eat your heart out.
When “See Through” starts, you hardly notice. The bass thumps along with nothing around to hold back its ringing depth until about a minute in when the guitar starts to chime in, followed by a crisp, clear voice. Things finally get to be above the level of a whisper at about 2 1/2 minutes in, when the drums actually kick in. I’m pointing out the times where these elements come in, but not to highlight the strategies Low uses to make their music. Instead, the band works so well in creating their environment, you probably wouldn’t have noticed how long it took for all four elements to come in. The spaces created by Low are expansive and desolate, just like that feeling of agoraphobia that sets in on you after spending too long in an empty place.
“Shame” takes a slightly different approach. This song has hooks, and their all up front, from the ringing guitar lines, ultra-slow solo, and gorgeous boy-girl harmonies. This track is something like Low’s attempt at merging their aesthetic with a conventional pop structure, which they do successfully without losing any integrity in their own agenda. “Shame” works to ease the listener into catatonia with its bittersweet sounds and utter minimalism. There is no building drama or expressive flourish; “Shame” works on an entirely flat plane to bring the world’s mediocrities directly to you.
Staring up at a bare lightbulb on a white ceiling may very well be the start of your day. It’s probably not as depressing as this album art lets on either. But Low does well to take that scene and expose the deep sadness that exists somewhere in its presence. Each song flashes back to that stark white-on-white picture and burns it into your eyelids. At which point it suddenly seems easy to feel mediocre and lifeless and failed, but sometimes, you just want to hear that makes you feel worse than you really do.
Album: Long Division
Tracklist & Review (Allmusic)