Low - review of Secret Name
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Low, Secret Name (Kranky)

In Codeine's Promise Of Love there is a line that, when sung in the monotone of Stephen Immerwahr, always strikes me: "you could never disappoint me, because you're who you are". It's one of those lines that I've gathered, from some strain of art or some shard of conversation, and kept with me. Perhaps I hold it aloft because it is so perfect, such a fantastic thought. Because, simply, I've never met anyone who couldn't disappoint me. Indeed, continual disappointments seem to have conditioned me to the thinking that everyone will inevitably do something that disappoints you. This would, by logical thought, mean that it would not be wise to invest too much of your emotions blindly into any one person, to reserve yourself from trying so hard to find some angelic disappointment-free union, and, thus, to cover your ass, as it were. Perhaps, as Will Oldham once sung in a time when his words seemed like scripture: "when you have no one, no one can hurt you".

However, as I am such a geek as to be a member of the low mailing-list (not a band-promoting-itself mailing-list, just a place for those possessing email to jettison thoughts in an open forum regarding Low), it was there that I read a story that seemed to sum up such sentiments perfectly, and, specific to this, it regarded music. So important was the tale, poured out by some solitary sole in the throes of sadness, that it made the link to music, physically, unimportant. The very long dear-diary account detailed a relationship that was paralleled by a specific band (of whose identity I have forgotten). The couple met due to liking the same music. They discovered this band together. And, as this record they'd discovered played on and on and they fell in love with its sound, they fell in love with each other. This one band, literally, soundtracked their relationship. So, as time and relationship moved on, the rock-band put out a second album, which again brought the couple, who had started to drift, into a period of closeness, of exploration. More time passed, and a third record was issued. And, simply, the record disappointed them. Just as with people 'close' to you, with bands 'close' to you, the slightest of disappointments carries such strong currency. The story continued in its strong parallels, as soon after the couple parted ways. The 'thematics' of such a re-telling seemed to be, in an almost perverted way, that a relationship with music can be holier than any one relationship with a person. Whereas you can take the contents of recorded sound and make what you will of it --moulding its emotions, symbols, and temperament into exactly the vessel you wish it to be-- with another person you can't do that. Another person can never be that.

And, I guess, that's where Low come into it for me. They make music more perfect than any one person could be. Indeed, each time someone disappointments me, it is, almost without fail, a Low record that I turn to. This is, to my continually-scattered mind, the best way of expressing what Low mean to me. I could make --and have made before-- some kind of statements about how 'beautiful' and 'powerful' they are, how their music is like some kind of heavenly treasure glistening in an area of 'artistic expression' that is piled thick with vacuous and abhorrent in-it-for-the-money shit. I could say that they are the best band in the world, or some other such stupid and arrogant statement that rock-journalists seem to make with little to no self-awareness. But, I won't. Because, I have read other opinions of Low that have stated they are 'unremarkable' and 'unadventurous'. So, it can't be any kind of 'fact' that they are a true musical paragon. Even though it is that which I solemnly feel. I've read many other reviews, or comments from some rock-star type, along the lines of 'I could write a thesis on the virtues of...', stating the person, performance, album, or song that is, to that individual, something that can be surmised into an intellectual document that 'proves' its worth. There's no way I could do that with Low. Even though what I have written thus far must come close to some kind of essay, there is very little reference to any kind of rock specifics. The rock specifics, as they were, are straightforward. Zak Sally plays bass, occasionally keyboards. Alan Sparhawk plays guitar, and Mimi Parker plays 'drums' --being, simply, a snare and a hi-hat-- and, they both sing. Low songs are long, slow, and simple. The lyrics are not particularly literate or floral. On Coattails, from Low's The Curtain Hits The Cast lp, the entirety of the oft-repeated lyrics is: "he rides on coattails". That is, physically, all they are. What I struggle mightily to do, without resorting to drama or cliche (something which I resort to often), is to 'explain' all that Low's music is to me in one small piece of writing. Some 'critical' review, one which bears the burden of truth and, apparently, casts value on the worth of the person receiving such 'criticism'. It's difficult, perhaps impossible, to do such a thing. All I can resort to, it seems, is high-thought, over-felt references to inter-personal relations that bear only slight reflectance to such music. And, it appears, do so over far too many words to be an 'album-review'. Still, I guess, I should say this: Secret Name is Low's fourth album proper, and it inspires emotions and passions in me just as much as any of their previous records. And, best of all, there is a song so sweet on this record, called Missouri, that makes me smile every time I hear it. Because it is --in a situation that is both affirming and regrettable-- something that, to my ears, and with my feelings, is perfect, precious, and personal. Something that is, somehow, entirely understanding. More understanding than any one person I've met.

Anthony J. Carew