On returning with their second album for Seattle’s Sub Pop Records, Low have found a way to remain truthful to their unique sound while adding a new element to their music in the form of ambience. Many of the songs feature a dreamlike quality with the inclusion of drum machines and loops. Their last record, 2005’s The Great Destroyer saw them embracing a more discordant and surprising rock sound. This one, however, is a welcome return to their trademark lethargic, late night music. It also showcases an experimental side that reminds the listener a little of their Songs for a Dead Pilot EP from 1997.
Drums and Guns, despite its unsuitable title, is a great record. In fact, it is arguably their best. Where one had to be in a certain mood to listen to a record such as Long Division from 1995, this one has a freshness to it that warrants repeated listening and attention. The addition of keyboard drones and almost mechanical percussion gives the album an almost electronic feel to it, although it is entirely organic with the addition of a periodic drum machine and some wonderful effects and loops.
Standout tracks include “Hatchet,” where Alan Sparhawk’s vocals slide along as an instrument of itself on top of a syncopated drum rhythm and groovy bass line. He manages to reference both the Beatles and the Rolling Stones in the song, but the music sounds more like something from Thom Yorke’s sparse and subtle The Eraser record, only here the music is played with guitar, bass and clocklike percussion. Likewise, “Breaker” boasts a similar type of sound except that this one is lead by an organ and somehow effectively includes handclaps that actually work with the track. After about a minute and a half a distorted backwards loop comes in over the organ to add a bit of unease to the otherwise hymn like melody.
After eight albums, Low are a band that actually seem to be getting better. Where many groups shamelessly copy or falter after their first two or three releases, they have managed to explore other sonic territories that have only enhanced their music. The recording and production are stellar as is the songwriting. This one comes highly recommended if you have any interest in the group. This could very well be the pinnacle of their recorded output.