Low, "Things We Lost In The Fire" [Tugboat]
9 / 10
Low have made a career out of music which rarely breaks out of a 60 BPM pace, a band for which the term 'slow-core' was invented. 'Things We Left In The Fire' sees the Duluth, Minnesota trio pick up the pace slightly, and not just in tempo; this record will finally give the band the recognition they deserve. Opener 'Sunflower', with it's memorable first line "When they found your body/Giant X's on your eyes" is a superb introduction, with it's restrained acoustic guitar/bass/drums backing to Alan and Mimi's heartbreaking harmonies. The song is almost triumphant, which makes it's successor 'Whitetail' all the more of a downer, with its morose bassline and sinister studio noise reminiscent of Joy Division's 'The Eternal', and Alan sounding quite disturbed with the simplistic lyrics of "Stay up all night/Waste time, waste light/Closer, closer/Ever closer". TWLITF sees Low reunited with Shellac mainman and producer Steve Albini (who previously recorded 'Secret Name'), someone who is living proof that you don't have to have a mohican and smell of Tennants Extra to be punk rock. His much publicised hands off approach to production brings out the very heart of a band, but it's arguable if the remarkable 'Dinosaur Act', with its guitar crunches the weight of aeroplanes, would have sounded the same without Albini at the helm.With their hushed melodies and often medieval guitar structures ('Kind Of Girl' being a perfect example'), Low have effortlessly picked up from where Simon and Garfunkel left off, Alan and Mimi possessed as they are of the kind of voices that can convey joy or pathos irrespective of what they are actually singing.
Although the band seldom let their religion overshadow their art (both Alan and Mimi are Mormons), 'Medicine Magazines', easily interpretable as a song about AIDS, with its introductory "They'll never cure this thing/With medicine and magazines" comes across as unecessarily preachy ("And how can it be that fun/When everyone around you dies so young?"). But that criticism is outweighed by the beautiful burden songs on this album. The vinyl edition of TWLITF concludes with 'Don't Carry It All', dubbed rather cruelly by Albini as 'The Campfire Song', but it is the closing track on the CD which is most poignant. 'In Metal', a song presumably written for singer/percussionist Mimi's newborn child, conveys all the fears of a parent for their baby, with it's declaration of "Partly hate to see you grow/And just like your baby shoes/Wish I could keep your little body/In metal". The title of this album refers to a line in the song 'Closer' - if you lost everything in a fire, you'd have to decide what was really important. After being won over by Low's euphoric melancholy, there should now be one extra item to try and save from the inferno.
- Guy Bartell
Things We Lost in the Fire on Amazon.com