Low - review of Songs for a Dead Pilot and owL
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owL remix (Caroline)
Songs for a Dead Pilot (Kranky)

from Westword Online, Denver, CO, 10-15-98.

The three ultra-minimalists in Low (who appear with the Czars at the Bluebird Theater on October 26) are known for music that's the sonic equivalent of a horse tranquilizer, albeit one with an overtly melodic and stately grace. Acres of space float between the band's spare bass, drums, guitars and vocals, thereby providing the studio types highlighted on owL remix with a virtual canvas of their own. On the best cuts, such as Porter Rocks's version of "Down," individual passages are parceled out, looped and manipulated to reveal interesting details. Elsewhere, "Over the Ocean," festooned with a peppy horn section and a chattering high hat, manages to sturdily embrace two separate but similar retoolings. But the previously lovely "Words" is overwhelmed by Jimmy Somerville and Sally Herbert, who increase the beats per minute until the song's original heart dissipates in a synthesized disco flurry.

The tunes on Songs for a Dead Pilot, Low's latest, are not nearly as pushy; the beautiful nighttime tunes on it wouldn't dare wake Grandma. Mirroring the serenity of Low's Duluth, Minnesota, hometown, the compositions ("recorded at home, pre-flood," according to a cryptic message on the jacket) are slowed to an almost somnambulistic crawl. The effect is sometimes numbing; during the thirteen minutes of "Down by the Wire," for example, the echo from each guitar strum fades before the next approaches. But on a fragile, elegiac piece such as "Be There," the band shows how harrowing a stealth approach can be, especially when guitarist Alan Sparhawk and drummer Mimi Parker whisper, "I don't want to be there when you find out" over the hum of a solitary organ note. Adding a mournful pair of cellos to the solemn "Condescend" amplifies the heartbreak as the song slowly plods to the end of a lonely road.

Whether Songs for a Dead Pilot is a gorgeous winter lament, a case study in seasonal affective disorder or a huge snoozefest is in the ear of the beholder. As for me, I plan to put it on whenever I'm feeling Low.

by Jeff Stratton