Low, "Things We Lost In The Fire" (Kranky)
Low's slow, measured grooves have always been hypnotic. It's a special skill the band has, to some degree creditable to simple economy of sound. Why hurry to jump in with a fresh chord when the previous wash of sound is still working its way through the audible spectrum? While a lot of bands don't waste much time on details, Low wants you to hear every single note, every single time.
Things We Lost in the Fire continues Low's history of doing more with less. Despite the relaxation and comfort suggested by their sometimes glacial pace, Low's music here is painstakingly deliberate. "We're only going to play this once," they seem to be saying, "so you'd better pay attention." Not that paying attention is difficult, with songs like "Dinosaur Act" on the playlist. This track is a stunner. Beginning with a loping rhythm and a framework of slightly western guitar, anchored by a persistent drum and Zak Sally's light-fingered bassline, it swells to increasing grandeur as the lyrics reach the title phrase. Alan Sparhawk and Mimi Parker share a gorgeous vocal harmony, and a single strident horn lends its support to their efforts. For the listener, it's surprisingly transcendent; you'll find yourself anticipating each chorus, closing your eyes and leaning into the speakers as the lyrics inevitably resolve that "It was a dinosaur aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaact."
Fans of Low's vocal interplay should eagerly await "July", in which Sparhawk and Parker's vocals mingle exquisitely. "They'll never wake us in time," they sing, leaving you to wonder whether the waking world could possibly live up to their dreams. "Kind of Girl" offers the palpable simplicity of a carefully-plucked guitar melody, Alan and Mimi's voices trailing gently in its wake, thrumming strings punctuating the tune as effectively as drums. Those seeking a busier pop environment should gravitate to the short-but-sweet voice/guitar/strings confection of "Like a Forest".
Despite their economical approach, Low are not without a measure of indulgence. Though its title doesn't betray the song's purpose, the lush "In Metal" is a parent's lament -- drawn, no doubt, from Alan and Mimi's own experiences with their year-old daughter, Hollis Mae. "Heartily hate to see you grow/ and just like your baby shoes/ wish I could keep your little body/ in metal." They're not exactly whipping out the wallet full of baby pictures, but it's close. Listen closely and you'll hear a recording of Hollis Mae gurgling and laughing as the song ends. Yep, these are proud parents. Credit Low's straightforward approach for making this song work; where other artists would force the sentiment to cloying excess, Low keeps it simple and matter-of-fact. It's actually pretty charming.
Despite the title's implication of loss, Things We Lost in the Fire is not a gloomy album. Fire, after all, cleanses as well as it destroys. For all their musical evocation of misty, water-colored memories, Low has always managed to avoid that deadly, saccharine lack of sincerity, instead achieving an admirably solid and materialism-free spirituality. For them, the sadness simply doesn't stick...so when they make a list of Things We Lost in the Fire, you get the distinct impression that they've moved on, and that the album is here merely to document the experience.
- George Zahora
Things We Lost in the Fire on Amazon.com