In the world of album artwork, there’s an adage that sticks to a certain portion of the population. Any artwork over history depicting the artist doing what they do – that is, performing the music – with little more than the artist’s face, with or without their instrument, is the most obvious example. Where faceless artwork in concerned, there’s sometimes a subtle motif found in the visuals that asserts itself as a defining metaphor to the music, intentional or not. The adage in question is this – you get exactly what it says on the tin. Though it isn’t always exact, as ambiguity in art would have it. The farfetched point I’m trying to make here is that on the cover for Low, Sundrugs’ latest in ambient drone wizardry, one of these motifs can be found, and it has a lot to say.
Looking back at 2013’s Hidden Scenes, an album that perpetually blurred the line between fear and comfort, this theory proves consistent. Nestled in the fingers of the artwork’s unknown character lays a cigarette, a symbol in and of itself but also congruent with the album’s themes of coming down and more literally the smoke itself. With this year’s Low, we get a similarly hazy art house-esque image to summarize the thick, murky nature of the music. Only this time, the contrast is greater. Outstretched is an open hand with a bright light within orbit of its palm. This emphasis on focus and light illustrates quite well the nature of Low’s evolution from Hidden Scenes.
Immediately you get a taste of this newfound light via the opener, simply titled “•••”. When “Further” comes around, it begins with the familiar formless moans that compose Sundrugs’ craft, only woven into the mist this time around are soft blares from a computer terminal meshed with a circling repetition of muffled techno bits to create a vague sense of activity. “Cheating the Bats” builds up this newfound taste for old-school electronics into a brittle static noise-collage from the same broken transmission as a Oneohtrix Point Never station, while “Melanistic Aberration” dives head-on into ambient techno homage in zero gravity.
While effectively employing remnants of forsaken spacecraft, Sundrugs successfully upkeeps his established taffy-pulled ambience. Though occasionally more black-and-white with its intentions, the Warsaw producer still knows what works – he just puts it to better use. Closer “2082” is virtually interchangeable with any of the tracks from Hidden Scenes, and at just under 22 minutes, it offers a chance to indulge profoundly into the complete Sundrugs experience. When he isn’t falling back on what works, he’s pushing his own envelope. “Let’s Can’t Sleep Together” breaks the emotional doors wide open with a beautifully succinct piano intro before getting swept up into a swirling starshow of absolutely sumptuous depth, more fully realized and effective than anything he has recorded to date. The other highlight is “Billion of Light Years”, which is notable for being the only track with a discernible rhythm, throbbing with marble beats and drifting along the course of a stable subaquatic piano. These moments define ethereal, and do it with a nod and a wink to a greater understanding of the term than before.
Saying nothing of his already alluring hazy soundscapes, Sundrugs successfully sharpens his craft and fleshes it out with more character and presence by implementing a more focused emphasis on the spacey and the electronic, coating his cinematic versatility with a newfound sci-fi affinity. If you’ve been following Sundrugs, then Low is the next step up you’ve been looking forward to. For it is here we can begin to make more sense and find a little bit of light in the warming darkness.
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