Low - review of Secret Name
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Low, Secret Name [Kranky]


In 1994, Low began their career with the debut release, I Could Live In Hope. Influenced by '80s new wave, guitarist Alan Sparhawk, drummer and wife Mimi Parker and bass player Zak Sally - who came into the picture a year later - were convinced that less is better. Equipped with a guitar, a bass, and a drum kit only consisting of a bass drum, snare and cymbal, they patiently created sparsely rich textured soundscapes.

By 1995, their pop-minimalist sound surfaced with Long Division. The collection of soberly, cold songs caught the fascination of many musicians, as well as critics alike. People were so impressed that reviewers would characterize any slow, brooding band to Long Division. Their following attempt, Curtain Hits the Cast, did not gain as much recognition, but now the Minnesota trio may set some new standards with Secret Name.

A first for the Chicago label Kranky, Secret Name is a marvelous diary carefully documenting the sights and sounds of the Midwest. The band packed their bags and drove to Windy City to record with indie-guru Steve Albini (Big Black, Rapeman).

With Secret Name, the band mildly ventures into new territory with the addition of a string section, timpani and pianos adding more layering to the music. Donít worry though, the music is still slow as molasses with fainting harmonies and cloudy melodies.

The album begins with Parker kicking out a beat that would make a Native American burial ground cry while Sparhawk nervously sings, 'I remember graduation.' Songs like "Starfire" provides more warmth, but the breeze is still there blowing in your hair. And it's a matter of time, before the temperature drops with the sad mood of "Sour." The album fluctuates, but the climactic moment is with "2-Step." Harking back to the Long Division days, the music is thick as each note is carefully plucked. Both Sparhawk and Parker trade lyrics coming together to whispfully sing, '2-step around the room, kneel down, unwound.' On the surface, this may be the most depressing band in the music business, but look more closely and Sparhawk and Parker crafts their lyrics like a photographer tells a story documenting everyday life in the heart of the American dream. What Garrison Keiler does to folk music, Low does to minimalism.

- Andrew Duncan