If ever a band seemed unlikely to merit a remix album, Low would be it. They may have written some of the slowest songs ever recorded, songs of an almost brutal quietness. The spare feel of Low shares an adjective with the spare feel of some of today's ambient trip-hop -- but just the adjective, not the sound or the tactics. The almost absurdly gentle atmosphere of a Low composition would seem to have no place being torn apart and reassembled by the likes of Neotropic, DJ Vadim, or Tranquility Bass.
That the new owL remix Low record succeeds -- to a point -- is pretty remarkable, then. Predictably, given a palette of lightly strummed guitar, bass, snare and hi-hat, all of the remixers turn to other sources to flesh out their new constructions. Some of the new tracks bear almost no relation to their inspirations except as jumping-off points, but that's to be expected, really. Interestingly, though, it's the tracks which maintain the strongest connection to the original song that work the best.
Among those, Tranquility Bass's version of "Over the Ocean," from 1996's The Curtain Hits the Cast, is the only track to use the entire verse and chorus of a Low song. In that sense, it's a real remix as opposed to the more autonomous compositions that Porter Ricks (the alias of two German composers) and Neotropic (one of the few women in electronica) deliver. "Over the Ocean ('91 party dance mix)" has plenty of charms; it's a bouncy mix that transforms the regretful melody of the original into something approaching perky. Skull Valley Dub's remix of Tranquility Bass's mix (yes, it gets this meta) abstracts the track pleasantly, taking out some of the bounce and replacing it with melancholia.
Neotropic's three contributions -- "Anon (Spore)," "Anon (Pollen)" and "Do You Know How to Waltz (vert)" -- are all strong, drawing heavily from the moody atmospherics of the Ninja Tune stable (of which she's a member). Ditto DJ Vadim, whose U.S.S.R. Reconstructed was highly regarded -- his "Laugh (Vox-Reverse Tele)" thumps at a low boil.
Less successful are the album's opener and closer. Porter Ricks' "Down" is aimless and long, an ambient diversion. Jimmy Somerville (late of Bronski Beat) and Sally Herbert (who's worked with Björk and Massive Attack, among others) turn in an empty dance-floor work-out with their "Words (J + S Mix)."
Fans of Low may be put-off by owL remix Low -- it's so different from the source material that it alienates listeners who fail to keep an open mind -- while trip-hop aficionados may look at the record as yet another compilation in a crowded field. Though it may not find a market, owL remix Low still qualifies as an unusual success, standing alone, but also casting new light on the slow, gentle, hypnotic sound of the aptly named Low.