- I Could Live in Hope
- On "Sunshine," from that record
- Long Division
- Transmission EP
- The Curtain Hits the Cast
- On "Prisoner," from the Finally... EP
- Songs for a Dead Pilot (originally posted in a longer form last year here)
- Secret Name
It’s 1997. Low is on tour, playing Tempe for the second time in less than a year. The first time was the very same week Transmission was released; they opened for Soul Coughing and were roundly booed throughout their set. This time—right around when The Curtain Hits the Cast came out—the setting is more appropriate. Low are the headliners, playing a record store packed with about 100 devoted (and silent) fans. It’s an amazing show. Among other things, Sparhawk—wearing a GodheadSilo t-shirt, by the way—reveals that the album version of “Words” is actually “the fast version.”
When the show is over I head for the stage, where their merchandise is scattered on the ground. No new music—I’ve already got all the LPs, EPs, and 7”s they’re hawking. I do notice a bright, sea-blue t-shirt lampooning the poster for the movie Jaws: the great white lunges ferociously up from the ocean with the word “LOW” written above in bright orange all-caps lettering. It’s sort of a genius t-shirt, if a little ugly. I don’t buy it.
It’s 1999 and I’ve met a brilliant girl. Among other ways we discover we’re meant for each other, there is an exchange of music and musical ideas. She introduces me to Rufus Wainwright, Jeff Buckley, and Fred Astaire; I introduce her to Cat Power, Ida, and Low. I had a cassette at the time that I kept in my car—it was all of Low’s 7”s and b-sides collected together. “I Started a Joke,” “Venus,” “No Need,” “Lord, Can You Hear Me?”. One of their earliest b-sides was from a food-themed compilation released around the time of their first album; the song was called “Peanut Butter Toast and American Bandstand.” We’d sing that one together.
It’s strange to think that I’ve fallen out of love with Low. Or, more accurately, that I’ve stopped keeping up. Maybe it was inevitable: three of my posts this week implied that I was anticipating the moment Low would become predictable. What made Low one of the seminal indie bands of the 90s was that they triumphed in the face of that anticipation so many times. Perhaps that’s why Things We Lost in the Fire, from 2001, was ultimately the last Low album I was to buy. It wasn’t a bad record by any means—I’ve heard some say it’s among their best—but for me, who’d been on board with everything they did for seven years running, it was the first release that sounded… like Low. It was good, but it wasn’t a revelation.
It’s Christmas of 1999 and we’ve been together for all of six months. Low release their Christmas EP and my brilliant girlfriend brings it over. The first song, “Just Like Christmas,” is unlike anything the group had ever done before! For one thing, someone is playing a full drum set. Better yet, it sets my brilliant girlfriend off on a tear of Christmas joy. She dances around the apartment and plays the song over and over.
- Low: Just Like Christmas
I just listened to Things We Lost in the Fire for the first time in at least six years, maybe longer. It really is a fine album. It’s almost cruel of me to say it had to be “a revelation” in order for me to stick with them. But that’s the bar they’d set. The album was again produced by Steve Albini, and it’s clear the group had reached a level of comfort with the sound they’d begun honing three years earlier on Songs for a Dead Pilot. The biggest difference on this album was the addition of Mimi Parker’s sister, who had previously added her voice to “Long Way Around the Sea” from their Christmas EP. The harmonies throughout Fire are therefore much sweeter, hewing closer to the vibe of frequent tourmates Ida. It’s a nice effect, and its sweetness juxtaposes against the fact that this album might be the darkest record Low had made to date. Tracks like “Whore” and “Embrace” and “Kind of Girl” feel like Low are walking a line right at the edge of darkness.
- Low: Whore
I have a hard time listening to Cat Power. Old Cat Power, new Cat Power, whatever. Everything about Cat Power just reminds me of a down time in my life and it’s simply no fun to listen to her. I can recognize the genius that is Moon Pix, but I can’t bear to hear more than one song at a time.
I don’t have the same issue with Low, though I listened to their music at the same time (longer, actually, which might be the reason they’re still okay). Still, the period in which I stopped listening to new Low albums happens to coincide with the period in which I became much happier. I stopped listening to Cat Power around the same time. Writing these posts this week it occurs to me that my love of Low happens to coincide with the period in my life in which I went from my first girlfriend to getting married, and whatever transpired in between. Is that a coincidence? Did I lose interest in Low because they had become predictable, or because I had overcome a kind of sadness I wasn’t ever fully aware of?
It’s late September 2001. Our families have stepped onto airplanes—a brave and awkward thing to do that month, that year—in order to come to Tempe to see us married. We were three weeks removed from a world-changing tragedy in New York, one month shy of our own life-changing move to New York, and smack in the middle of the most important day of our lives. We were married. We kept the wedding small and intimate: at our house, with our friends and family taking care of the food and the music and photography and decor. It was in many ways a very simple event—the ceremony itself took, I think, about ten minutes—but of course also very profound. This year will be our eighth anniversary. Next month, in about three weeks actually, we will have known each other for ten years—approximately a third of our lifetimes. We still sing “Peanut Butter Toast and American Bandstand.”
At the reception we did our first dance to “Two-Step,” by Low. It was the start of a new chapter.
- Low: Two-Step