Sunday, August 31, 2008

Low - Drums & Guns (J)

Low was the band that marked the beginning of the end of my metal days. Never before had I heard such emotional intensity from 3 people, let alone a Mormon family.

Low is married couple Alan Sparhawk, who plays guitar and sings, and Mimi "Mim" Parker, who sings and plays a modest drum kit, comprised of a floor tom and a single cymbal, played exclusively with brushes (not the hair care product) instead of drumsticks, along with the help of bassist Matt Livingston, who left Low in February 2008.

Low is credited with the creation of a style of music called "slowcore." Originally used as an inside joke within the band, slowcore is now considered a legitimate genre. Slowcore is, as defined by Wikipedia, "a subgenre of alternative and indie rock. The music of slowcore artists is generally characterized by downbeat melodies, slower tempos and minimalist arrangements. The term is generally used interchangeably with sadcore." Notable slowcore artists (besides Low) are Dirty Three, Codeine, Galaxie 500, Bon Iver, and Slowdive.

Low's sound is characterized by Parker's consistent-yet-barely audible drumming, Sparhawk's sparse guitar parts, and, of course, the astounding vocal harmonies between the two. Critic Denise Parker stated that Sparhawk and Parker's harmonies are "as chilling as anything Gram [Parsons] and Emmylou [Harris] ever conspired on -- though that's not to say it's country-tinged, just straight from the heart."

Musically, "Drums & Guns" is very different than previous releases, this time the band delves deep into the realm of "minimalist pop," relying more on their voices (note the a Capella "Belarus" and the a Capella intro to "Your Poison") than instruments, which are rarely played. For the most part digital drums and keyboards are used instead of their acoustic counterparts, though electric guitars and acoustic drum loops are used liberally. Though this release hearkens a new, minimalist era for Low, this change is widely accepted and encouraged.

Since they had more time to concentrate on their voices, Alan and Mimi's vocals are nothing short of perfect on "Drums & Guns." Mimi's sense of when to harmonize with Alan (note the irregular harmonic timings in "Violent Past), along with which scale and mode (check out the exotic harmonies in "Sandinista") is pure genius.

"Drums & Guns" is a political album, yet the only time that Low openly shows their political side are the songs "Sandinista," whose song title refers to many a war-protest folk song, and "Pretty People," the droning introduction, where Sparhawk gives a list of everything that is "gonna die," expressing his opinion that the war in Iraq isn't going to end even when the soldiers are all gone. Lyrically, the rest of this album deals with religious devotion ("Murdrer"), sappy love ("Hatchet"), hardship ("Dust on the Window," "In Silence," "Take Your Time"), and Sparhawk's eternal battle with drug addiction ("Dragonfly").

The standout track of the entire release is definitely "Murderer," the penultimate track. As explained by Alan on the Low Documentary (named for the song) "You May Need A Murderer," "Murderer" is an explanation that if God were to tell Sparhawk to give up his possessions, his house, his life, and he had to take his family anywhere to start anew, he'd do it. If God told him to kill someone, he'd do it. This song deals with intense religious devotion in a much more serious manner than, say, Christian rock bands who "Lift the Lord's Name on High." This is real, Moses-like devotion. "Murderer"'s haunting melodies will stick in your head for days, if not weeks. (a music networking site) proclaims that on my computer alone I've listened to "Murderer" 19 times, which may not sound like a lot, but I have a tendency to listen to entire albums in one sitting, along with the fact that I have 120 Gigabytes of music.

This album can appeal to almost anyone (even my sister enjoys this, and she listens to the Disney-owned artists. You know, Miley Cyrus, The Jonas Brothers, e.t.c.), and, mind you, I was a metal head when I first listened to Low. This was undoubtedly my favorite release of the past year, if not decade.

Recommended for fans of: music in general, but more seriously, Arab Strap, Red House Painters, Coldplay, Slowdive, Yo La Tengo, and Sun Kil Moon.

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