How Low Can You Go?
by Liz Belile
It's your typical bar: dark and smoky, with flyers peeling off the walls. And Low looks to be your typical bar band: Alan Sparhawk on guitar, Mimi Parker on drums and Zak Sally on bass and occasionally a keyboard. But Low doesn't produce the crunchy megadecibel guitar roar that brings boisterous crowds to their mosh-pit feet on any given weekend night in any given club in the country. Low is low -- melancholy, slow, glacial, even. Low produces lush yet spare chamber pop that mesmerizes and hushes a bar crowd, that turns angst into grace. When Low plays, rock clubs become so quiet and intense that you could hear a pin drop. But don't try it. Some Low fan might kick your ass if he misses a lyric when it hits the floor.
The Minnesota band's music has been described as "slowcore" or "sadcore," but it's not about speed or emotional state so much as making the most out of every single sound. Each carefully placed Low note stands on its own. Sparhawk and Sally push the delays, reverb and tremolo effects on their guitars and keyboard, while Parker softly taps a floor tom, a cymbal and a snare with brushes. Sparhawk and Parker, who have known each other since elementary school and been married six years, blend their tender and crystalline voices perfectly and sustain notes as if they were suspended in amber.
Low's 1994 debut, I Could Live in Hope, is still quite possibly one of the most romantic discs ever recorded. Last year's remix album, Owl, featured tricked-out trance and dance versions of some of their earlier songs. Their most recent CD, Secret Name, released through Kranky out of Chicago, was produced by the now legendary Steve "Smells Like Teen Spirit" Albini, and expands (but maintains) the Low sound into more orchestration, with timpani, strings and piano.
Listening to Low on CD is completely absorbing, as soothing as floating in the womb. But its unique live shows have inspired a Grateful Dead-like legion of fans obsessively trying to record and trade them. It seems that being quiet has gotten Low lots of attention -- even from the rowdiest of Rudyard's regulars.
Low plays Rudyard's, 2010 Waugh Drive, (713)521-0521, on October 11 with Isotope 217 and Mick Turner. The show starts around 10 p.m.
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