The second or third time I listened to “Try to Sleep,” the lead track on Low’s new album, it became lodged in my head for the rest of the day.
Not just playing somewhere in the subconscious background, mind you, but blaring right at the forefront. I couldn’t stop humming the melody, walking in rhythm to that slow-mo beat, even air-drumming a little fill of my own as I went.
Which is remarkable, given the sense of menace that’s lurking in the lyrics. Sure, that line about never waking up is hard to ignore, but repeated listenings revealed even more nuggets to give me pause. For example: why the hell are Alan Sparhawk and company telling me “don’t look at the camera” as they try to lull me under?
Low already gets plenty of credit — and dismissal — for doing that slow, elegiac, crumbling beauty thing so well. But that’s only half the story. As with “Try to Sleep” and much of C’mon, there’s often something turbulent, even dangerous, beneath the placid surface.
So a song like “Especially Me” might move at a stately waltz, with all of its harmonies in place, but it blisters with a seething heat. It feels like a kiss-off at its most agonizing, played back frame-by-frame.
“As it stands, we don’t have a clue,” the refrain goes. “Especially me, and probably you.” On the last line of the song, it shifts to “definitely you,” a subtle turn that sounds like a twist of the knife.
Musically, this is not a Low album that will catch anyone by surprise. After dabbling in different tones on its past couple of albums, the band has settled back into its established strengths: marathon slow builds (the pummeling “Nothing But Heart”), moody atmosphere (“Witches”) and outright prettiness (“You See Everything”).
But then Low delivers a little sidestep like album closer “Something’s Turning Over.” Campfire acoustic guitars, a singsong melody… and — surprise surprise — terribly dark lyrics.
“Every now and then I feel them breathing, moving through the room so quietly,” Sparhawk sings, without ever specifying who “them” is. “And just because you never hear their voices, don’t mean they won’t kill you in your sleep.”
Which, of course, makes for a rather unsettling tie-in with the album’s first song. No, I don’t think I can blithely hum “Try To Sleep” ever again.