Low + Dirty Three, In the Fishtank 7 [Konkurrent] - 11/12
The In the Fishtank series is a series
of EPs put out by the Dutch label Konkurrent where bands are given a
couple days of free studio time to record 20 to 30 minutes of music.
Low and the Dirty Three have already occupied the same sonic space, that
being on a split CD single a few years ago (and several tours).
However, their work on their new contribution to the In the Fishtank
series is a little different, as it is a collaborative effort.
One great thing about the In the Fishtank series is that they make
the reviewer's job easier by putting a detailed description of the recording
of the album on the back cover. Here we learn that Low was invited
to participate in the series and invited the Dirty Three to collaborate
with them on the session during the Crossing Border festival in
November 2000, which both bands played at. The recording session was
evidently quite hectic and
nerve-wrenching as the Dirty Three did not arrive until the festival
had already started and ended up recording some of their parts while Low was
actually onstage performing. Inspired by the combination of Low and
the Dirty Three's sound, Mimi was inspired to sing in a "more
crooning way," and Alan decided to "play some amazing banjo."
The result is something that is at times uneven but is also quite
amazing as it really seems to be a combination of the best parts of
Low and the best parts of the Dirty Three. Alan Sparhawk and Mimi
Parker's voices sing out like a choir as Warren Ellis' mournful
violin sounds almost despondent, creating a very moving combination
of sound. Ellis' violin also helps the tempo from getting too low,
keeping the songs vibrant and alive. Six songs were recorded for the EP, ranging
from sparse and open to loud and cacophonous, and the EP includes five original songs and
The cover song is Neil Young's "Down by the River," and it is done at
approximately ten beats per minute, creating a barren soundscape similar
to Low's recent experimental imaginary soundtrack, The Exit Papers. When Mimi finally
begins singing at the six minute mark, you feel like you are "Down by
the River" with her as she sings Young's words, "Down by the river I shot
my baby, down by the river I shot my baby dead." Given Parker and
Sparhawk's recent birth of daughter Hollis,
Mimi's singing of this song gives Young's words a totally different
Another emotion born out of Mimi's pregnancy is covered in
"When I Called Upon Your Seed," as she tells her husband that any
negative aspects of their marriage are inconsequential as proven by
her willingness to bear his child. These emotions associated with
child birth and how it affects the parents as a couple are just not
heard in popular music; it is a wide, fruitful range of emotions that
works well in Low's context.
The topic of "Invitation Day" also relates to the couple's marriage.
At the beginning of the song, the two sing together in a
mellow and lifeless manner, expressing the tedium of arranging
an important event, like a baby shower or marriage. As the lyrics
turn to a rising sun, signaling the morning of the planned event,
the instruments and voices swell in joy, letting the listener know
through tone only that the joy of the event has outweighed the
annoyance of planning it.
On the instrumental "Cody," Ellis' violin is given a prominent
position. The violin is lyrical
and somber, sounding as if it is in remembrance of an old friend
who has now passed on. In contrast to this song's beauty, the
following song, "Lordy," is a loud and clanging take on backwoods
gospel folk, sounding like it may be inspired in part by the Coen brothers'
"O Brother, Where Art Thou" and featuring some of that "amazing banjo."
The combination of Ellis' violin and Parker and Sparhawk's voices
and delicate instruments is outstanding, making this EP a standout
release in either band's discography. These guys should definitely make
more music together.
-- jim steed, 8 June 2001