Low - review of The Curtain Hits The Cast
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Low, The Curtain Hits the Cast

from Gravity Girl by Anthony Carew

Minnesota minimalists Low just happen to make the most beautiful music ever. EVER. They create a rare blanket of sound for the lonely to huddle under. The sympathy of each frail and unnerving guitar stroke. The carressive tenderness of each bass whisper. The sheer heart-warming force of the most elegant male/female vocal harmonies, all the time wavering in bleeding impurity. A melting glacier, slow, deliberate, shockingly powerful. This is the stuff love is made of.

Low's 94 debut I Could Live In Hope defined the rise of slowcore, the antithesis of every Mark Of Cain or Pitchblende that chases the faster, louder, tighter creed. 95's Long Division suffered the sophomore slump that so many bands go through trying to follow up an amazing debut, being penalised for past greatness, not being marked with a clean slate. You know the reviews: "great record, but it's no... (insert debut album name)". On I Could Live In Hope it was often only vocals and bass, with a touch of drum(s) or a touch of guitars, depending on who was singing (vocalists Mimi Parker and Alan Sparhawk do drums and guitar, respectively). Long Division filled in the sound more, but struggled under that burden. It seemed the band were trying to write more concise, pop songs. On The Curtain Hits The Cast, all comes together; a complete band sound, a live band sound, contributing to some feverish, full-blooded, (still comatose, of course) grooves. As they say, third times the charm.

At times on the record, Sparhawk's boyish American whine is usurped by a gloriously wavering falsetto. This only adds to the amazing sound that the voices of Sparhawk and Parker generate. Anyone who's turned purple trying to sing along with Violence knows how much power is in those lungs -- but yet the vocals remain a whisper. (For a shining example of Parker's picturesque tones, try the tear-shedding The Plan.) And they tear at your heart in a way only they can. Only Low can.

The Curtain Hits The Cast is one of those albums that makes you want to call in sick, lock yourself away, not talk to anyone. An incredibly moving experience, it makes life seem so facile. Why is true beauty so shunned, and skin-deepisms afforded such deified status? Over the Ocean is just a song. But it is so simple that it unfolds into countless complexities. It is life itself within 3:47 of digital technology... but really only a song, only music. What that music does inside your mind is what cannot be replicated, and this is why Low are the most indispensable band to be encountered. Each song breathes in a time and place all of its own, and revelling in the beauty of finding it is what touches the heart.

Words are rendered near meaningless. Lines that would normally be throwaway become forever etched in your memory. "And when all the stars have gone out..." "Can I hold it for a week?" Or simply one word: "Anon..." The entirity of what Parker gushes in Coattails is "He rides on coattails", her vocals reverberating through a whirlpool of tears, as the song gathers the strength of traditional mid-western music, snowbound, unmistakably reminiscent of the heroic opening strains in the score of the Coen Brothers' Fargo. Do You Know How To Waltz? is a fourteen minute deranged tempest, but Mom Says is the albums coldest moment. "Mom says the car won't make it to the lake" Sparhawk whimpers, drawing a bead on Susan Smithís murder of her two children in South Carolina. The song passes away with the soft tears of ìMom says we ruined her bodyî, a very real reminder of the fractured mental state that stopped the world. Chilling.

And the record is thusly imbued with a sense of drama previously lacking in Low's recording.

Low create an inexplicable symphony of sound from such mere tools. Sparhawk quietly strums his guitar, often repeating one simple phrase, or in the outro of Over The Ocean, just one note. Parker's percussion dwells solitary too, simply one loose snare and one cymbal. It would be safe to say that Zak Sally has never slapped a bass in his life. Occasionally producer Steve Fisk (of Pigeonhead and Pell Mell) leans his coffee mug on a keyboard. That's it. But Low can achieve sounds so vast within such humility, sounds that Split Enz can't hold a candle near backed by an entire symphony orchestra. So much so is Low's subtlety, that they claim that they can hear each other breathe when they play live. That is the restraint of their craft.

This is not a perfect record, far from it, but that is exactly what makes it so great. Beauty lies in imperfection. All greatness is marked with flaws. Cliches maybe, but the reason why Low kisses with undeniable honesty; their songs modest, exposed. Low just have an absolute heart of gold, something that applies to very few bands in this day and age. You will simply never hear a record as emotionally dense, and consummately moving as this.