Low is Probably the Most Boring Band I Like

C’mon, the name of the new Low album, is quite probably a joke. “C’mon” is the sort of thing you shout before leading your friends on a sprint to the shores of your favorite lake, dropping trou, and skinny dipping until the cops come to run you off. Or maybe you howl a hearty “C’mon” before leading your band into a particularly rousing cover of “Blitzkrieg Bop.” But Low’s new album is the equivalent of bellowing your most enthusiastic, “C’mon!” before walking, as slowly as you can, from your couch to your bed. And then just, you know, sleeping in your bed.

Not that there’s anything wrong with that.

I actually really like Low. I loved 2007’s Drums and Guns, which opened with one of the most gleefully depressing songs I’ve ever heard, “Pretty People” (as in “All the pretty people/ are all gonna die.” The song basically talks about lots of different kinds of people – “all the poets/ and all the lovers” – and how they’re all gonna die. I’d like to see them put that in an episode of Glee).

Here’s the thing: I think Low’s music sounds exactly like music should sound if it’s made by people who have consistently survived Duluth, Minnesota, winters without responding in some unnecessary and rash manner- such as murdering someone and/or moving to Florida. But I fully recognize that their music (branded “slowcore” by some critical people. The band disapproves of this label but, though I loathe genre labels and deeply admire Low for not wanting to be called slowcore, it’s fairly difficult to deny that it’s an apt description of what they do) can seem a little… well… tedious. Or, more accurately, boring.

So what’s to like?

For starters, the vocal harmonies between Alan Sparhawk and Mimi Parker are consistently badass. Whatever else is going on in a Low song, those two voices make magic together. C’mon‘s “Done” is nothing short of exquisite because Sparhawk and Parker’s voices fit so well together singing about rain drops that burn up “before they hit your cheek.” And then there’s the end of “Nothing But Heart,” a song which I’m going to mention like ninety-five times in the next seven hundred words because I think it’s a pretty great litmus test for people who are new to Low’s music.

The whole point of Low’s aesthetic is to use repetition and sparse musical arrangements to make the listener want to inject heroin into their rectum while chowing down on a plate of Ambien cookies.

I kid, I kid.

The vibe you’re supposed to get from C’mon, I suspect, is one of a sort of haunted beauty. It works, for the most part; the melodies are repetitive but very often gorgeous (the epic “Nothing but Heart” tests the limits here, but is saved by the layering in of Mimi Parker’s vocals during what is basically a six minute outro) and the instrumental arrangements are spare but still fairly diverse. “Done” has little flourishes of steel guitar, Sparhawk accidentally turns his amp up to a respectable volume on the intro to “Nothing but Heart” (which also features Wilco’s Nels Cline) and some little synthy blips and bleeps make their way into the end of “Majesty/Magic.”

Probably the worst thing about C’mon is “Witches,” which starts out okay but it goes on too long and gets weird toward the end when Alan Sparhawk starts sneering at guys who want to sound like Al Green (I could be misunderstanding the lyrics here, but I don’t think so). The song isn’t pretty enough to warrant such a lyrical non sequitur and, because Low’s music already crawls along at a snail’s pace, they can ill afford to have one tenth of their album suck. “Suck” might be a strong word for “Witches” but “good” would be a dishonest word for it. So there you go.

So here’s the aforementioned litmus test (dear science-minded Bollocks! readers: I am fully aware that litmus tests are used to determine alkalinity or acidity, but the phrase “litmus test” has evolved through common usage to also mean a test that firmly indicates one thing or another. If you’ve ever typed “lol” or “ttyl” to someone, you absolutely can’t crawl up my ass about using “litmus test” in the current context): you’ll know right away if you like Low by listening to, I believe, two songs on C’mon: “Majesty/Magic” and “Nothing but Heart.” Both are beautiful in their own right, but both are incredibly repetitive. In the right mood, I can positively adore these songs and the way they swell up to their lovely little climaxes. But in that same mood, I can totally see why you might listen to those songs and think I was drinking expired Nyquil and cheap vodka (a drink known as the “Lester Bangs” in some circles). Either way, I have no doubt that your opinion of Low – be it positive or negative – can be determined by those two songs. They exemplify pretty much everything Low does, for better or worse. I say “for better.” You say “po-tah-to.”

I think context is crucial when considering the pros and cons of C’mon (and, to be honest, a lot of albums). “Nothing But Heart” is too long for me to really enjoy when driving down the freeway, but sitting at my dining room table, listening to it through my headphones (at a quarter to midnight), it’s pretty fucking stellar. The album feels longer than it is because the songs are paced so slowly (closer “Something’s Turning Over” is the most uptempo tune on the album and you’re not gonna break a sweat dancing to it), and your own personal level of patience is going to determine pretty quickly your inclination to forgive that pacing.

My endorsement of C’mon will no doubt come off as a little more tepid than it really is, but I can’t help but feel like that’s an appropriate response to Low’s music. At their best, they make absolute beauty out of the basest components of rock ‘n’ roll music. At their worst, they make…. zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz.


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