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Low

After establishing an epic sound with 2005's The Great Destroyer (thanks in part to Flaming Lips producer Dave Fridmann), indie-rock trio Low were poised to expand their sonic palette even further with the promisingly titled Drums and Guns. Instead, the band does an about-face, retreating into a foxhole of beat machines and other synthetic instrumentation. As a pop-music effort, Drums and Guns is a misfire. However, if one approaches the album as something else--a kind of aural sculpture, for instance--it rewards the listener.

Fridmann applies whatever texture he can to the minimalist proceedings. In "Pretty People," for instance, he accentuates the grit in Mimi Parker's spare bass-drum kick and the shadows of feedback in Alan Sparhawk's guitar drone (even though Drums and Guns is more of an electronic album). Sparhawk, meanwhile, seems down to the task of assembling lyrics that dwell inordinately on war, violence and pain: "It's just a shame / My hand just kills and kills." Sometimes, the canvases Low paint involve too much black crayon; other times, there are bits of color, as in "Sandinista," in which Parker and Sparhawk's vocal harmonies knot like doomed lovers on their way to the ocean floor. Or consider the nifty love jingle "Hatchet," with its tinny programmed rhythm and bluesy guitar riff, and the minute-long rush of "Your Poison," which starts out like a gospel choir and ends like the world's saddest torch song.

As one can imagine from reading this review, Drums and Guns makes for a challenging listening. To their credit, though, Low aren't aiming at easy pop-formula targets.

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