Low, "Things We Lost In The Fire" (Kranky)
A few years ago, I couldn't really appreciate Low's music. But then, perhaps it was a bit too mature for me at the time. Low's songs, and the perfect way that the band blends precise use of instrumentation, require a different type of maturity. These are songs that must be appreciated on multiple levels. Low's songs are not simple, yet they are pure and wonderful, and perhaps it wouldn't be too extreme to say that the band has proven themselves to be the definitive songwriters today.
Although the basic elements from their earlier albums are still here, it wouldn't be fair to call Low's music slow-core, even though they were the definitive slow-core band. Rather, the band is deliberate in their songwriting. When required, the songs on their latest release take on a more full sound, and this adds to the ability of singers Mimi Parker and Alan Sparhawk, already two of the most gifted singers and songwriters. But the band still has their quieter moments, and these shine even brighter by comparison to the louder pieces separating them.
Slow-core and indie pop blend
Idaho, Hayden, Tram, Mojave 3, Ida
There's basically two types of songs here. The first is a more pop-based song. "Sunflower," for example, uses a deliberate beat and some lovely guitar and bass to move along at a very pleasant pace that suits the song's title. And "Dinosaur Act," perhaps my favorite Low song ever, even adds hints of distorted guitar for a Neil Young-like track of sheer magnificance. And although it's quiet and sparse, "July" has moments of layered keyboards and guitars and soaring vocals for a beautiful effect. "Like a Forest" is a lovely little pop song that almost has a folk quality to it, perhaps due to acoustic guitar and Sparhawk's very emphatic vocals. And the closer, "In Metal," features mostly Parker's voice to acoustic guitar, a few odd screeches in the background, and a really lush, awe-inspiring quality.
The other variety of song is more true to Low's past, and that's the quieter, more sparse feeling, slow-core style songs. "Whitetail," for example, is at times simply vocals over light noise and barely strummed guitar. It's quiet and bare yet stark in its simple beauty. "Medicine Magazines" has soft, brushed drums and piano that are the perfect compliments to Sparhawk's and Parker's combined vocals, and "Laser Beam," which features Parker's vocals at their most lovely and echoed for a unique effect, has an effect somewhere between a spiritual and a lullaby. The starkly quiet and haunting "Embrace" flows effortlessly into "Whore," which has a very slow and quiet, almost sleepy pace.
What more can you say about Low that hasn't been said? The band puts their songs first, and you never get more sound or noise than the song requires. Sparse, bare songs of quiet guitar and hauntingly beautiful vocals are just as powerful as their precise pop songs, played with more passion and feeling than most bands could imagine. Low used to be the definitive slow-core band. Now I'd say they're the definitive indie rock band.
Side note: The three-sided vinyl release contains two extra tracks. I'm sure they'd be worth checking out too.
Things We Lost in the Fire on Amazon.com