SPF30: Sub Pop’s 30th Anniversary Festival with Beach House, Clipping, Kyle Craft, Fastbacks, Jo Passed, Loma, LVL UP, METZ, Moaning, Mudhoney, Shabazz Palaces, Wolf Parade, plus Caspar Babypants, The Not-Its and The School of Rock West Seattle House Band along Alki Beach in West Seattle.
The festivities kick-off the evening of Friday, August 10th at 5pm, with The Afghan Whigs, Mass Gothic and Yuno playing a free, all-ages outdoor concert at the Mural Amphitheatre, presented by KEXP and Seattle Center.
Later that same evening, we are presenting A Night of Comedy From the Cast of Bob’s Burgers at The Moore Theatre, featuring H. Jon Benjamin, Eugene Mirman, Kristen Schaal, Larry Murphy and John Roberts. This is a ticketed event with proceeds to benefit Seattle’s YouthCare.
YouthCare works to end youth homelessness and to ensure that young people are valued for who they are and empowered to achieve their potential. Founded in 1974, YouthCare was one of the first programs to serve runaway and homeless youth on the West Coast. The goal was to help young people find safety today and build a future for tomorrow. Over the past four decades, YouthCare has defined best practices and developed programs that are a national standard for excellence. Using a youth-centered approach, they ensure that young people experiencing homelessness ages 12-24 have the hope, skills, and confidence to gain long-term stability.
Tickets for A Night of Comedy From the Cast of Bob’s Burgers will be $30 (plus fees). A special presale begins Wednesday, May 30th at 10am PT (presale code LOSER30), with tickets on sale to the general public Friday, June 1st at 10am PT. Tickets are available here. Doors are at 7pm, and the show is all-ages.
Then on Saturday, August 11th from noon-10pm, the Southwest Seattle Historical Society welcomes Sub Pop for SPF30, our 30th anniversary festival at West Seattle’s Alki Beach. SPF30 is an entirely free event featuring Beach House, Clipping, Kyle Craft, Fastbacks, Jo Passed, Loma, LVL UP, METZ, Moaning, Mudhoney, Shabazz Palaces, Wolf Parade, and a family stage featuring Caspar Babypants, The Not-Its and The School of Rock West Seattle House Band. The festival will feature four stages along incredibly scenic Alki Ave. in the Alki Beach neighborhood of West Seattle.
Seattle’s Alki Beach boasts some of the most awesome territorial (city/water/mountain) views the city has to offer, along with the occasional whale sighting, a somewhat diminutive replica of the Statue of Liberty, and some of the best local businesses to boot. We are stoked (and not a little surprised) that the city cleared the permits.
SPF30 will also have…A record fair-type event! A host of local nonprofit organizations! Food trucks! Beer gardens! (The food and beer and wine and soda or whatever, you will have to pay for! These parts are not free!) Good times and opportunities to embarrass yourself and those who’d always hoped for better for you! Plus, bands!
And closing out the weekend is a late show celebrating the unbelievably “coincidental” 15th anniversary of Pissed Jeans held at the Crocodile in Seattle. This show is 21 +, and doors are at 8pm. Tickets are $16 and available here.
It is our hope that SPF30 and Sub Pop’s 30th Anniversary Weekend will serve as a super fun and sincere “thank you” to our local and global music community for supporting Sub Pop and our artists for the past 30 years (and the next 30!).
In addition to celebrating a dynamic, inspirational roster spanning three decades, we also wish to create a sense of uplifting togetherness where we not only listen to great music but we become better at listening to each other as well.
JULY 26 / AUGUST 2ND / AUGUST 9TH SUB POP TURNTABLE SESSIONS KEXP Gathering Space • FREE • 6-8pm • ALL-AGES The Sub Pop Turntable Sessions are three distinct panel discussions highlighting multiple facets of Sub Pop’s history in celebration of the label’s 30th anniversary. Each session will review snippets of past label happenings and works while discussing how they relate to the label and our society’s future. The first session will be on July 26th, featuring Sub Pop LOSER Scholarship winners. The next will be on August 2nd and will feature Seattle-based collective Black Constellation. And for the third session we’ll be bringing in the Sub Pop’s own Mudhoney, as they also celebrate their 30th anniversary this year as well. Session 1: Sub Pop Loser Scholarship Winners. Session 2: Black Constellation. Session 3: Mudhoney’s 30th.
AUGUST 10TH SUB POP’S BIG 30TH ANNIVERSARY KICK-OFF SHOWCASE THE MURAL AMPHITHEATRE • FREE!!! • 5PM • ALL-AGES A special concert at the Mural presented by KEXP and Seattle Center with The Afghan Whigs, Mass Gothic, Yuno
A NIGHT OF COMEDY FROM THE CAST OF BOB’S BURGERS THE MOORE THEATRE • $30 • 7PM DOOR • ALL-AGES Featuring H. Jon Benjamin, Eugene Mirman, Kristen Schaal, Larry Murphy, John Roberts
AUGUST 11TH SPF30: SUB POP’S 30TH ANNIVERSARY FESTIVAL• ALKI BEACH, WEST SEATTLE • FREE!!! • NOON - 10PM • ALL-AGES On four stages… with Mudhoney, Shabazz Palaces, Wolf Parade, Kyle Craft, Moaning, Beach House, Clipping, Fastbacks, METZ, LVL UP, Loma, Jo Passed, Caspar Babypants, The Not-Its, The School of Rock West Seattle House Band, and Special Guests.
THE CROCODILE • $16 • 8PM DOOR • 21 AND OVER The Unbelievably “Coincidental” 15th anniversary of Pissed Jeans
To celebrate their European tour next week, Downtown Boys have shared their rendition of “Fotos Y Recuerdos”. Originally recorded by The Pretenders as “Back in the Chain Gang,” the song was later covered - with Spanish lyrics - and further popularized by the late Tejano queen, Selena.
Downtown Boys, in a group statement, say of the track: “Fotos y recuerdos translates to photos and memories. The original singer of this version of song, Selena Quintanilla, reminds us that, while it often feels like history repeats itself, our mystic chords of memories - even memories of thoughts - become part our protection. Our most gracious fotos and recuerdos break history repeating itself by being endless. And yours can be for you and no one else.”
“Fotos Y Recuerdos” was recorded during the Cost of Livingrecording sessions with Guy Picciotto and Greg Norman at Electrical Audio in Chicago.
Downtown Boys will resume their European tour schedule in support of Cost of Living next week. The dates span June 1st in Düdingen, Switzerland at Bad Bonn Kilbi Festival through June 9th at Hilavrenbeek, Netherlands’ Best Kept Secret Festival.
Jun. 01 - Düdingen, CH - Bad Bonn Kilbi Festival Jun. 02 - Trento, IT - Urma Festival Jun. 03 - Milan, IT - Zuma Festival Jun. 04 - Brescia, IT - Latteria Molly Jun. 05 - Torino, Italy - Blah Blah Jun. 06 - Ravenna, IT - Beaches Brew Festival Jun. 07 - Genova, IT - Teatro Al Trove Jun. 09 - Hilvarenbeek, NL - Best Kept Secret Festival
Produced by Fugazi’s Guy Picciotto, Downtown Boys recently released their highly anticipated and critically acclaimed third album, Cost of Living, on Sub Pop. Listen here, and buy it here.
What people are saying about Downtown Boys: ”Cost of Living, Downtown Boys’ third full-length, was written before this year’s inauguration, but its battle cries over centuries of injustices for marginalized people who have been left out of historical (and musical) narrative feels timeless” [Cost of Living, 8.5/10] - Paste
“a fierce offering that takes aim at fascism, queerphobia, capitalism, and racism in a howl of cathartic energy.” [Cost of Living, 8.5/10] -Loud & Quiet
“Downtown Boys are an antidote to 2017, to Trump’s America, to oppression of all marginalized groups. The bi-lingual Chicana, queer and Latino outfit are also a punch to the larynx of tired, white-washed punk rock that’s turned so far towards its own privileged naval.” [Cost of Living] - Under The Radar
“Like a cross between X-Ray Spex and Rage Against The Machine as reinterpreted via US hardcore.” [Cost of Living] - Uncut
“Nobody writes like Ruiz and Joey DeFrancesco, who espouse strength in the face of oppression.”[Cost of Living, 4/5] -MOJO
”Cost of Living is refined, an example of a band who can still make an album sound angry and alive under its surface sheen.” [Cost of Living] - Stereogum
”Cost of Living, the band’s third full album, does more than just chronicle what it’s like to be a non-straight and/or non-white working class person in America. It’s a declaration of war against the status quo.” [Cost of Living] - Uproxx
“It’s a pure punk attack, with driving guitars, bulldozing drums, Victoria Ruiz’s uninhibited shouts of anger for the oppressed, and of course the sax.” [Cost of Living] - Brooklyn Vegan
“Downtown Boys are an antidote to 2017.” [Cost of Living] -Under the Radar
“They craft a punk record that finds perfection between raw energy, handfuls of talent and something to say.” [Cost of Living, 8.0/10] -Northern Transmissions
”The Cost of Living feels so vital because it’s not just a document of the times, or a surface level scanning of issues. Unlike so much modern ‘political’ music that falls into a sardonic appreciation of the world, Downtown Boys are on the streets, marching, rioting, singing. They want to be in the thick of it, because that’s the only way things will change.” [Cost of Living, 4/5] -Spectrum Culture
Cost of Living is a testament to our need for Downtown Boy’s spirit, and to the possibility of compassion in the quest for equality.” [Cost of Living] - The Fader
”Cost of Living will likely be remembered as a document of its time. However, Downtown Boys have done an admirable job of placing the specifics of their messages within the context of history, and infusing the record with a rich new musicality.” [Cost of Living] - SPIN
“A shot of pure adrenaline, Downtown Boys are an antidote to the carefully posed, cynical window of modern life. No time for frills, they’re true to their core. Start the riot.” [Cost of Living, 4/5] - Upset
‘Lithium Zion’ will be available worldwide from Sub Pop on Friday, July 27th, with the exception of the UK on Friday, August 3rd
Melbourne’s Deaf Wish have returned with an official video for “FFS”, the propulsive and excellent lead single from Lithium Zion, their forthcoming album. “FFS” was directed by band members Jensen Tjhung and Daniel Twomey, is shot in glorious black and white, and stars guitarist/vocalist Sarah Hardiman delivering an intense and engaging performance of the song.
The music on Lithium Zion was collaboratively written by Deaf Wish, with each member taking turns on lyrical and vocal duties throughout the album. The album was recorded and mixed in Melbourne in April of 2017 with Nao Anzai, with additional mixing from Mikey Young of Total Control (who also mixed the group’s “St. Vincent’s” 7” single and Pain album, both released on Sub Pop).
Lithium Zion will be available on CD/LP/DL/CS worldwide on Friday, July 27th, except for the UK on Friday, August 3rd, through Sub Pop [pre-order here]. LP preorders of the album through megamart.subpop.com and select independent retailers will receive the limited Loser edition on hot pink vinyl (while supplies last).
Lithium Zion Tracklisting
1. Easy 2. FFS 3. Metal Carnage 4. The Rat is Back 5. Ox 6. Hitachi Jackhammer 7. Lithium Zion 8. Deep Blue Cheated 9. Birthday 10. Afraid For You 11. Smoke
[Photo Credit: Ela Stiles]
More on Deaf Wish’s Lithium Zion by Matt Korvette: There’s an inherent flaw in the perennially alternating “rock is back” and “rock is dead” arguments: they are based on the idea that rock music is a logic-based choice a person consciously chooses to make. Contrary to the critics who are looking to suss out cultural trends and movements (but have never actually lifted a greasy bass cab onto a stage in order to entertain a couple dozen people), the decision to play loud, distorted, unabashed guitar-rock isn’t a strategic move but a higher calling (or curse, depending on one’s point of view). Some might say the pursuit of rocking out via deafening amplifiers, crusty drums and a beer-battered PA is a spiritual one, an affliction that either strikes or doesn’t. Few groups today embody this sentiment like Melbourne’s aptly-named Deaf Wish.
They’re more likely to ask a fellow musician what they do for their “real” job (for one, guitarist Jensen Tjhung works as a builder) than talk shop about publicists, ticket counts and online promotions. They’re a grisly rock group and they’ve already signed to Sub Pop, which is to say they’ve already succeeded beyond their wildest dreams, so anything that comes after (performing in strange new cities, meeting like-minded souls, maybe even selling a t-shirt or two) is a bonus. And if they come to your town, you would be wise to clear your calendar: “I’ve started pouring a can of beer on my head every show. If that ain’t worth five bucks then I’m quitting show biz for good,” promises Tjhung.
Lithium Zion is their fifth full-length album (and second for Sub Pop following 2015’s Pain), and while it’s a rare case that a group’s fifth album is their best, particularly any band operating under a “loud fast rules” ethos, Deaf Wish make a strong case as the exception. Their previous albums were all recorded in makeshift studios (Is that a basement with some quilts stapled to the ceiling? Now it’s a “studio”!), which of course is a wise aesthetic choice for capturing the hazardous riffing, chemically-stained vocals and fiery rhythms conjured by a group such as this, but this step toward a slightly more professional sound only enhances their power - think of the difference between a tangled pile of firecrackers and a red stick of TNT lodged in a hornets nest. The record opens with “Easy”, a languid rocker in the rich Australian tradition of groups like X and The Scientists. From there it’s onto “FFS”, a moody downhill rocker sung by guitarist Sarah Hardiman (“I feel like a fool / out playing pool / hitting on you”) that confirms Deaf Wish’s relation to fellow Sub Pop employees like feedtime and Hot Snakes. “The Rat Is Back” is tense and epic; “Hitachi Jackhammer” pays a brief and noisy tribute to Hitachi’s second most notable device (you’d be forgiven for assuming this song is about vibrators). Lithium Zion is a veritable buffet of garage-punk energy, post-punk pathos, sardonic wit and the fearlessness that comes with Aussie rock, a natural consequence for anyone living on a continent teeming with grapefruit-sized spiders and man-eating mosquito swarms.
As has always been the case, the whole group shares vocal duties, even drummer Daniel Twomey (you know the band is slightly unhinged if they’re letting the drummer sing). Hardiman and Tjhung are as ragged and hairy as ever, chugging along as though krautrock was trying to speed past the late ‘70s but got caught in the sticky grasp of punk. Such is the way of Deaf Wish, a group destined to write songs that are simultaneously stupid and sublime, vulnerable and ferocious, and play them with the unbridled intensity they demand. Anyone serving a life sentence to rock will surely concur.
Today we share the bittersweet news that New York’s LVL UP will embark on their final tour this fall, and has released “Orchard” the group’s final single today on Sub Pop. The trek begins August 27th in Boston at Great Scott, and ends September 28th in New York at Bowery Ballroom. Full list of dates is below.
LVL Up have issued a statement on the farewell tour and “Orchard” single:
“We have decided to retire this project. It has been an extremely rewarding journey beyond anything we could have ever realistically imagined. The band began in a college dorm room in 2011 as a lighthearted recording project. We have since been lucky enough to tour nationally and internationally over the last seven years with the support of many lovely people, and will never be able to thank our friends, families, and loved ones enough for providing such warmth throughout this experience. Our deepest gratitude goes out to every label, band, and person who’s played a role in this wild ride.
“Here is our last single, “Orchard”, which we recorded early this year. As always, thank you to our eternal friend and fifth member Mike Ditrio for helping us with this and every other recording process we’ve had.
“Everyone in the band will continue to support each other while we release new material through different outlets.
“LVL UP will be performing live for a final stretch of time this coming fall.
“Thank you for everything, *_* Dave, Greg, Mike, Nick *_*”
Aug. 27 - Boston, MA - Great Scott Aug. 28 - Montréal, QC - Bar Le Ritz Aug. 29 - Toronto, ON - The Garrison Aug. 30 - Cleveland, OH - Mahall’s Aug. 31 - Chicago, IL - Beat Kitchen Sep. 01 - Minneapolis, MN - 7th St Entry Sep. 04 - Missoula, MN - Union Ballroom Sep. 05 - Seattle, WA - Barboza Sep. 06 - Portland, OR - Mississippi Studios Sep. 08 - San Francisco, CA - Cafe Du Nord Sep. 09 - Los Angeles, CA - The Echo Sep.10 - Phoenix, AZ - Rebel Lounge Sep.13 - Dallas, TX - Three Links Sep.14 - Austin, TX - Barracuda Sep.16 - Nashville, TN - High Watt Sep.17 - Asheville, NC - The Mothlight Sep.18 - Carrboro, NC - Cat’s Cradle Sep.19 - Richmond, VA - The Camel Sep. 20 - Washington, DC - DC9 Sep. 21 - Philadelphia, PA - Boot & Saddle Sep. 28 - New York, NY - Bowery Ballroom
LVL Up’s last full-length release, Return To Love, is also available now on CD/LP/DL/CS from Sub Pop right here.
Just days away from the release of their highly-anticipated debut album Hope Downs - out Friday June 15 via Sub Pop Records, Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever today announce their biggest headline tour to date. The monolithic Hope Downs World Tour will see the Melbourne outfit traverse the globe across four months playing to fans in the USA, Canada, Australia, the UK, and Europe and will include sets at Lowlands (Netherlands), Pukklepop (Belgium) with more to be announced. In celebration of the news, Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever have dropped a surprise slice from their album in the form of closing track, “The Hammer” to follow the already stellar tracks “Mainland,” “Talking Straight,” and “An Air Conditioned Man” we’ve been treated to so far.
It’s been an incredibly busy few months for Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever. Between taking out the coveted Australian Levi’s Music Prize and being announced on this year’s Splendour in the Grass, the five-piece have filled their time touring across North America, the UK and Europe playing sold out headline shows (many of which on their first time through the city) and performances at some of the world’s biggest music festivals including Coachella, The Great Escape, Primavera, Shaky Knees and more.
Current radio single “Talking Straight” is also shining at radio, with support from the likes of SiriusXM, KEXP, and KCRW in the States, triple j in Australia, and BBC 6 Music & BBC Radio 1 in the UK.
[Photo Credit: Maclay Heriot]
ROLLING BLACKOUTS C.F. TOUR DATES (New North American Dates in Bold)
Wed. June 6 - Birmingham, UK @ The Hare & Hounds
Thu. June 7 - Guildford, UK @ Boileroom
Fri. June 8 - Porto, PT @ Primavera Sound
Mon. June 11 - Harlden, DE @ Haldern Pop Festival
Sun. July 22 - North Byron Parklands, AU @ Splendour in the Grass
Sat. Aug. 4 - Katowice, PL @ Off Festival
Tue. Aug. 7 - Aarhus, DK @ Tape
Wed. Aug. 8 - Copenhagen, DK @ Pumperhuset
Fri. Aug. 10 - St. Gallen, CH @ Sur Le Lac Festival
Sat. Aug. 11 - Rees-Haldern, DE @ Haldern Pop Festival
Mon. Aug. 13 - Munich, DE @ Milla
Tue. Aug. 14 - Luxembourg, LU @ Rotondes
Thu. Aug. 16 - Trondheim, NO @ Pstereo Festival
Fri. Aug. 17 - Bigginghuizen, NL @ Lowlands Festival
Sat. Aug. 18 - Kiewit, BE @ Pukkelpop Festival
Sun. Aug. 19 - Brecon Beacons, UK @ Green Man Festival
Tue. Aug. 21 - Dublin, IE @ Whelans
Sat. Aug. 25 - San Diego, CA @ Soda Bar
Mon. Aug. 27 - Los Angeles, CA @ Teragram Ballroom
Tue. Aug. 28 - San Francisco, CA @ The Independent
Thu. Aug. 30 - Portland, OR @ Doug Fir
Fri. Aug. 31 - Vancouver, BC@ Fox Cabaret
Sat. Sep. 1 - Seattle, WA @ Bumbershoot
Mon. Sep. 3 - Salt Lake City, UT @ Kilby Court
Wed. Sep. 5 - Denver, CO @ Larimer Lounge
Fri. Sep. 7 - St. Paul, MN @ Turf Club
Sat. Sep. 8 - Chicago, IL @ Lincoln Hall
Mon. Sep. 10 - Detroit, MI @ El Club
Tue. Sep. 11 - Toronto, ON @ Horseshoe Tavern
Wed. Sep. 12 - Montreal, QC @ Le Ministère
Thu. Sep. 13 - Cambridge, MA @ The Sinclair
Fri. Sep. 14 - Philadelphia, PA @ Johnny Brenda’s
Sat. Sep. 15 - New York, NY @ Bowery Ballroom
Mon. Sep. 17 - Washington, DC @ Black Cat
Thu. Sep. 27 - Brisbane, AU @ Brisbane Festival
Fri. Sep. 28 - Sydney, AU @ Factory Theatre
Sat. Sep. 29 - Wollongong, AU @ Yours & Owls
Fri. Oct. 5 - Perth, AU @ Rosemount
Sat. Oct. 6 - Adelaide, AU @ Jive Bar
Fri. Oct.12 - Geelong, AU @ Workers Club
Sat. Oct.13 - Melbourne, AU @ Corner Hotel
Fri. Oct. 19 - Manchester, UK @ Manchester Academy 2
On September 14th, in the faithfully defiant fashion of their 25-year career, Low will release Double Negative, its most brazen, abrasive (and, paradoxically, most empowering) album. As a prelude to the full-length album, Low presents a triptych video for the opening songs of the album. Each video can also be watched independently:
Directed by Mark Pellington - Edited by Jen Kennedy
To make Double Negative, Low reenlisted B.J. Burton, the adventurous producer who in recent years has made records with Bon Iver, Lizzo, and Francis and the Lights. Returning once again to Justin Vernon’s April Base studio in Eau Claire, Wisconsin (where they recorded 2015’s Ones and Sixes) Alan Sparhawk, Mimi Parker, and bassist Steve Garrington knew they wanted to go further with Burton and his palette of sounds: they wanted to see what someone who is, as Sparhawk puts it, “a hip-hop guy” could truly do with their music. Rather than obsessively write and rehearse at home in Duluth, Minnesota, they would often head southeast to Eau Claire, arriving with sketches and ideas that they would work on for days with Burton. Band and producer became collaborative co-writers, building the pieces up and breaking them down until their purpose and force felt clear.
Following summer shows in the UK, Germany, and Poland, the band will embark on a first leg of touring in support of the new album with a two-night stand at National Sawdust in New York City. See below for a full list of tour dates, with more to be announced in the coming weeks.
Tour Dates: Jun. 19 - Leeds, United Kingdom - Brudenell Social Jun. 20 - London, United Kingdom - Queen Elizabeth Hall (Robert Smith’s Meltdown Festival) Jun. 23 - Duisburg, Germany - Traumzeit festival Jun. 25 - Munich, Germany - Ampere Jun. 26 - Dresden, Germany - Beatpol Jun. 29 - Bialystok, Poland - Amphitheater of the Podlasie Opera and Philharmonic (Halfway Music Festival!) Sep. 20 - New York, NY - National Sawdust Sep. 21 - New York, NY - National Sawdust Sep. 29 - Lisbon, Portugal - Lisboa ao Vivo Oct. 1 - De Compostela Santiago, Spain - Sala Capitol Oct. 2 - Madrid, Spain - Sala But Oct. 3 - Barcelona, Spain - Fabra i Coats Oct. 5 - Milan, Italy - Teatro Dal Verme Oct. 6 - Zurich, Switzererland - Bogen F Oct. 8 - Leipzig, Germany - Conne Island Oct. 9 - Berlin, Germany - Festsaal Kreuzberg Oct. 11 - Brussels, Belgium - Orangerie (at Botanique) Oct. 12 - Amsterdam, Netherlands - Paradiso Oct. 13 - Paris, France - La Gaîté Lyrique Oct. 15 - Bristol, UK - Trinity Oct. 16 - Manchester, UK - Manchester Cathedral Oct. 17 - Manchester Cathedral - Vicar Street Nov. 02 - St. Paul, MN - The Fitz Nov. 03 - Davenport, IA - Daytrotter Nov. 05 - Detroit, MI - El Club Nov. 06 - Toronto, ON - Great Hall Nov. 08 - Montreal, QC - La Sala Rosa Nov. 09 - Boston, MA - Brighton Music Hall Nov. 10 - Philadelphia, PA - Underground Arts Nov. 12 - Washington, DC U Street Music Hall Nov. 13 - Pittsburgh, PA - The Funhouse Nov. 14 - Cleveland, OH - Grog Shop Nov. 16 - Chicago, IL - Rockefeller Chapel Nov. 17 - Madison, WI - High Noon Saloon
Pre-orders of Double Negative through megamart.subpop.com and select independent retailers will receive the limited Loser Edition on crystal clear vinyl with an enclosed full-color flat of album artwork. The album cover for Double Negative was created by longtime collaborator, English artist, Peter Liversidge.
Double Negative Tracklisting: 1. Quorum 2. Dancing and Blood 3. Fly 4. Tempest 5. Always Up 6. Always Trying to Work It Out 7. The Son, The Sun 8. Dancing and Fire 9. Poor Sucker 10. Rome (Always in the Dark) 11. Disarray
[Photo Credit: Shelly Mosman]
More on Low’s Double Negative by Grayson Currin: In 2018, the band Low will turn twenty-five. Since 1993, Alan Sparhawk and Mimi Parker—the married couple whose heaven-and-earth harmonies have always held the band’s center—have pioneered a subgenre, shrugged off its strictures, recorded a Christmas classic, become a magnetic onstage force, and emerged as one of music’s most steadfast and vital vehicles for pulling light from our darkest emotional recesses. But Low will not commemorate its first quarter-century with mawkish nostalgia or safe runs through songbook favorites. Instead, in faithfully defiant fashion, Low will release its most brazen, abrasive (and, paradoxically, most empowering) album ever: Double Negative, an unflinching eleven-song quest through snarling static and shattering beats that somehow culminates in the brightest pop song of Low’s career.
To make Double Negative, Low reenlisted B.J. Burton, the quietly energetic and adventurous producer who has made records with James Blake, Sylvan Esso, and The Tallest Man on Earth in recent years while working as one of the go-to figures at Bon Iver’s home studio, April Base. Burton recorded Low’s last album, 2015’s Ones and Sixes, at April Base, adding might to many of its beats and squelch and frisson beneath many of its melodies.
This time, though, Sparhawk, Parker, and bassist Steve Garrington knew they wanted to go further with Burton and his palette of sounds, to see what someone who is, as Sparhawk puts it, “a hip-hop guy” could truly do to their music. Rather than obsessively write and rehearse at home in Duluth, Minnesota, they would often head southeast to Eau Claire, Wisconsin, arriving with sketches and ideas that they would work on for days with Burton. Band and producer became collaborative cowriters, building the pieces up and breaking them down and building them again until their purpose and force felt clear. As the world outside seemed to slide deeper into instability, Low repeated this process for the better part of two years, pondering the results during tours and breaks at home. They considered not only how the fragments fit together but also how, in the United States of 2018, they functioned as statements and salves.
Double Negative is, indeed, a record perfectly and painfully suited for our time. Loud and contentious and commanding, Low fights for the world by fighting against it. It begins in pure bedlam, with a beat built from a loop of ruptured noise waging war against the paired voices of Sparhawk and Parker the moment they begin to sing during the massive “Quorum.” For forty minutes, they indulge the battle, trying to be heard amid the noisy grain, sometimes winning and sometimes being tossed toward oblivion.
During the immersive “Dancing and Blood,” Parker slowly comes into focus, as if singing from the wind-ripped mouth of a cave. Parker appears to beat back disaster for “Fly,” her soulful vocals curving into and above Garrington’s bold bassline as Sparhawk’s own signal cuts in and out. Elsewhere, though, songs like “Always Trying to Work It Out” and “Tempest” threaten to swallow the pair whole, their overwhelming quakes of dissonance aiming to silence them once and for all. Sometimes, Sparhawk and Parker are stuck in the Sisyphean middle, capable of neither failing nor forging ahead. During the brilliantly conceived “Poor Sucker,” written in large part by Garrington, their voices suggest skiffs stuck on some turbulent sea, falling beneath and rising above the cacophony with seasick irregularity. In this frustrated song of self-defeat, Low lists all the ways they could have made their lives matter. It is a eulogy of could-have-beens for a time that won’t really let you be.
As “Rome (Always in the Dark),” a march that forces its way through the din with damn-the-torpedoes tenacity, fades toward a rare silence, a pulse sculpted from a shard of noise emerges, flashing from a distance like the safety of a life raft. It rises into a steady thump, with Sparhawk and Parker floating above it in crystalline unison: “Before it falls into total disarray/You’ll have to learn to live a different way,” they sing, their melody forming a tightrope of despair and delight. In some ways, it’s a warning of the bad times to come. But it’s also a promise that we’re more powerful and adaptable than madness itself, that we have the ability to persevere. During the song’s back half, Sparhawk and Parker don’t say anything. They instead lock into august harmony and glide between notes, Parker’s purely ascendant tone pulling Sparhawk’s falsetto skyward. It is an exquisite and triumphant moment, an exhalation after all the damage and din.
In spite of the mounting noise, Sparhawk and Parker still sing. Or maybe they sing because of the noise. For Low, has there ever really been a difference?