(Photo Credit - Nathan Keay)
Album Review - Low: HEY WHAT (September 9, 2021)
I listened to Miles Davis On The Corner for the first time when I was much younger. I want to guess sometime in my mid-twenties, but that doesn’t matter. Other than the funk I loved, the structure of the album became a highlight for me. While I have since noticed it in early Davis albums, in classical, and at live jam band shows, the reprise of the rhythm or its underlying presence throughout the entire album was a new concept to me. Upon my first listen of Low’s Hey What, I noticed a pounding, anxiety-driven heartbeat music theme through the first four songs.
After an auditory nightmare sounding intro, the theme begins in “White Horses.” As the song builds, so does the stress. This includes a minute and a half outro that reminds me of ashorter, more bearable, well-planned “pulse (v.1)” from LCD Soundsystem. (This is not a criticism of LCD Soundsystem because I love their music and what they do.) In fact, it carries over into “I Can Wait.”
In albums such as On The Corner, each song has its own moments. However, you can hear the DNA. “All Night” moves a little away from the theme. It is hidden under layers of sound, but it is still there in the percussion and the vocals. About the four-minute mark, it begins that recognizable build again. Although there is a slight reprieve as a transition into “Disappearing,” we still hear it.
“Hey” does a great job hiding the theme. This is what I would call the pop song from the album. But then you get “There’s a Comma After Still.” Then “Don’t Walk Away” moves away from the musical theme again. Through the body of the album, the lyrics do more of the heavy work connecting the songs. But that’s what great artists do. They move away from the theme, only to reintroduce it later in a slightly changed form. Each moment is unique, but each moment is also part of the whole. By the end, Low has created an elaborate skin that forms Hey What.
My final thoughts: Ok. This was obviously very difficult for me to work through. I don’t have the music terminology to explain what I am hearing. Yet, I think I can sum it up by saying that Low does a great job composing a complete concept album. Hey What is not just a collection of songs. It is all connected, and musically Low wants listeners to know that. Each song works with the same DNA and is closely related. Think Pink Floyd’s Darkside of the Moon. The heartbeat brings in the album and then carries it away. Think about a jazz band’s percussionist keeping together the band during improv. Think Phish’s secret language. Yet, Low doesn’t hide the theme. They make it present throughout the entire album.
Favorite Songs: “I Can Wait,” “Disappearing,” and “More”
Rating - 4.5 out of 5