Low - review of Dinosaur Act
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Low, "Dinosaur Act" EP (Tugboat) - 9/12

This is a little three song taster of what we may expect from Low's upcoming record, tentatively scheduled for a January 2001 release on Kranky. Though the songs on Dinosaur Act demonstrate Low's exceptional ability to create compelling music within the narrow confines of their slow, sparse style (which expands just a little bit with each release), these tracks are not really their best work. Following up their last, and arguably best, full-length, Secret Name (also on Kranky), is a tough nut to crack, so we should not fault them too much for not putting out another perfect record.

"Dinosaur Act" starts off the record and will no doubt get much attention for the amount of distortion that guitarist Alan Sparhawk employs (that is, he uses some). With Low, any change, no matter how subtle, will seem enormous because of the economy of their sound. This song, essentially, does not depart too much from what they have done in the past: Sparhawk's just-as-much-as-necessary guitar, Zak Sally's so-subtle-you-may-miss-it bass, Mimi Parker's metronomic snare and cymbol, and, best of all, Alan and Mimis alway's perfect vocals. During the chorus, the voices raise and the distortion kicks in, making what seems to be a monstrous sound. It's a great effect: parsing out the space and sound so when the chorus comes, it's overwhelming. The problem is that the song is a bit formulaic, you know what is coming next, and its too standard for Low. (Interesting note, the vocal harmony that occur at 3:20-3:28 is perhaps the sweetest, most beautiful piece of music that Low has ever recorded.)

"Overhead," however, is quite a bit different. Its a more experimental piece, a droning sound collage over which Alan and Mimi sing a plaintive, yearning duet. Where "Dinosaur Act" seems typical, "Overhead" is a progressive piece that showcases Low's ability to stretch without losing touch with the most effective elements of their particular musical vernacular. The song is slow burner, increasing in volume and intensity, again benefiting from Low's ability to measure out just enough to make every sound and every space immensely important. There is no excess and thus there is no waste.

"Don't Carry it All" is an acoustic ballad, accented with tambourine and a plinky piano. The music is so sparse, even for Low (the acoustic instruments don't resonate as much as the electric ones on their other songs, leaving even more space), that all attention goes to the vocals, which are, of course, fantastic. Alan's voice is pure, honest, and highly emotive, while Mimi's harmonies are sweet and perfect. The build of this song is from a quiet intimacy to a grand ecstasy.

For a single, this is a pretty good record. More importantly, it shows that Low is still putting the kind of effort into their music that they always have and are still progressing.

dave christensen
2000 nov 22


Dinosaur Act on Amazon.com