Low, "Dinosaur Act" EP (Tugboat)
Once, a-sides mattered. Actually, that's not true. In my life, a-sides never really mattered. I have a lot of singles, but given a choice, buy the single or buy the whole album, I will always buy the album or both. The handful of exceptions in my collection, singles whose albums I don't have, all date back to very early, budget-constrained days: the Pretenders' "2000 Miles", X's "4th of July", Eddie Money's "Take Me Home Tonight", Billy Joel's "Matter of Trust". Peter Gabriel's "Red Rain" and "Don't Give Up", not for budget reasons but because I refused to own "Sledgehammer" and "Big Time". Combine that with the fact that I don't listen to the radio any more, and it becomes extremely rare for me to develop a relationship with an a-side because of its a-sided-ness. If I obsess over an album's single, it's usually a coincidence.
Or else the single came first. In the case of "Dinosaur Act", the single came out almost three months before the album, and in a different calendar year, which in my year-centric tracking of music makes a significant difference. So this single got a lot more attention from me than most, even to the extent that I fetishized the object a little bit, which I don't tend to. It's a shiny black digipak, the front cover half black with just "LOW" in white, half a contrasty close-up of a guitar face that you might have needed a couple tries to recognize if I hadn't told you. The inside cover is black and blank, the tray clear over a blank black back. The back cover and the disc itself are both black with a minimum of white text. It wasn't until I did some research that I realized there was an album on its way, and I suspect at least a small part of my fascination with the song was a function of its apparent isolation. I could imagine, for a few minutes, that Low had somehow moved beyond albums, and reached the point where each individual song would be so exquisite and painful that it would be unbearable to compile them.
But the album did eventually arrive, and "Dinosaur Act" makes sense in its context, too, and now the single is left to hold b-sides. Both the b-sides were so over-shadowed by "Dinosaur Act" that after hearing them for months I still might not have been able to tell you anything about them, but now that they're the only reason for me to play this disc, I can focus on them a little easier. "Overhead" is an ominous, murmuring noise-collage, Alan and Mimi's voices gliding over loops of incidental guitar twitter and a steady, train-like kettle-drum pulse, perhaps Low's own response to their Bombscare EP collaboration with Spring Heel Jack. "Don't Carry It All", the second, is more conventional, a slow, prayerful song buoyed by some spare piano. The reverent repetition of the title phrase lends the song a sort of "Kumbaya"-ish gospel sing-along quality, and for once Alan and Mimi, singing it, sound like they want to be joined, which in a way prefigures the album's openness, but only in hindsight, when prefiguring is no longer very interesting.
- glenn mcdonald (this review is copyrighted by him, 2001)
Dinosaur Act on Amazon.com