Low - review of in the fishtank
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Low + Dirty Three, In the Fishtank 7 [Konkurrent] - 11/12

The In the Fishtank series is a series of EPs put out by the Dutch label Konkurrent where bands are given a couple days of free studio time to record 20 to 30 minutes of music. Low and the Dirty Three have already occupied the same sonic space, that being on a split CD single a few years ago (and several tours). However, their work on their new contribution to the In the Fishtank series is a little different, as it is a collaborative effort.

One great thing about the In the Fishtank series is that they make the reviewer's job easier by putting a detailed description of the recording of the album on the back cover. Here we learn that Low was invited to participate in the series and invited the Dirty Three to collaborate with them on the session during the Crossing Border festival in November 2000, which both bands played at. The recording session was evidently quite hectic and nerve-wrenching as the Dirty Three did not arrive until the festival had already started and ended up recording some of their parts while Low was actually onstage performing. Inspired by the combination of Low and the Dirty Three's sound, Mimi was inspired to sing in a "more crooning way," and Alan decided to "play some amazing banjo."

The result is something that is at times uneven but is also quite amazing as it really seems to be a combination of the best parts of Low and the best parts of the Dirty Three. Alan Sparhawk and Mimi Parker's voices sing out like a choir as Warren Ellis' mournful violin sounds almost despondent, creating a very moving combination of sound. Ellis' violin also helps the tempo from getting too low, keeping the songs vibrant and alive. Six songs were recorded for the EP, ranging from sparse and open to loud and cacophonous, and the EP includes five original songs and one cover.

The cover song is Neil Young's "Down by the River," and it is done at approximately ten beats per minute, creating a barren soundscape similar to Low's recent experimental imaginary soundtrack, The Exit Papers. When Mimi finally begins singing at the six minute mark, you feel like you are "Down by the River" with her as she sings Young's words, "Down by the river I shot my baby, down by the river I shot my baby dead." Given Parker and Sparhawk's recent birth of daughter Hollis, Mimi's singing of this song gives Young's words a totally different meaning.

Another emotion born out of Mimi's pregnancy is covered in "When I Called Upon Your Seed," as she tells her husband that any negative aspects of their marriage are inconsequential as proven by her willingness to bear his child. These emotions associated with child birth and how it affects the parents as a couple are just not heard in popular music; it is a wide, fruitful range of emotions that works well in Low's context.

The topic of "Invitation Day" also relates to the couple's marriage. At the beginning of the song, the two sing together in a mellow and lifeless manner, expressing the tedium of arranging an important event, like a baby shower or marriage. As the lyrics turn to a rising sun, signaling the morning of the planned event, the instruments and voices swell in joy, letting the listener know through tone only that the joy of the event has outweighed the annoyance of planning it.

On the instrumental "Cody," Ellis' violin is given a prominent position. The violin is lyrical and somber, sounding as if it is in remembrance of an old friend who has now passed on. In contrast to this song's beauty, the following song, "Lordy," is a loud and clanging take on backwoods gospel folk, sounding like it may be inspired in part by the Coen brothers' "O Brother, Where Art Thou" and featuring some of that "amazing banjo."

The combination of Ellis' violin and Parker and Sparhawk's voices and delicate instruments is outstanding, making this EP a standout release in either band's discography. These guys should definitely make more music together.

-- jim steed, 8 June 2001