Thursday, May 24, 2007

Belarus

One could argue that this entire blog (and others of its kind) are nothing more than prolonged exercises in overanalysis, but that doesn't change the fact that there are some Low songs I won't or can't analyse. Can't actually isn't terribly likely - even if I would have found it difficult when I was a teenager perhaps, years of phenomenology have me pretty sure that the human mind can analyse just about anything that happens to it.

With two major caveats. The first is that this analysis may easily be flat-out wrong, may miss what is actually going on or at the least misconstrue it severely. The second is that in some cases the process is only possible via destruction. In order to get a handle on your reaction to something you may deconstruct the thing, or your reaction, or yourself, to the extent that you are literally unable to have that reaction any more. So won't rears it's ugly head.

"Belarus" is a song I did not like the first time I heard it, when my lovely promo copy of Drums and Guns made it's way to my door (the first time I didn't pay for a Low album, unless you count the fact that A Lifetime of Temporary Relief was a Christmas present). Higher pitched vocals in general don't tend to sit well with me at first (I'm including things like Hamilton Leithauser and John Darnielle here), and the song seemed brief and static. The niggling, Susumu Yokota-like string arrangement that pokes through between the song's two verses and prods the second verse forward I don't think I even noticed, although I now love it. As I do the vocals; those higher pitched voices I react poorly to at first tend to become favourites if I do stick around.

The lyrics are even more fragmentary than usual for Low (this is definitely a song that I would like to have some sort of background for) and as getting used to the sound of Drums and Guns did take a couple of listens the way "Belarus" wafts in on a bell-like percussion loop, oddly precise bass notes and sampled Mimi-murmurs (I think) was initially kind of off-putting. I mean, I didn't like "Cue the Strings" at first either, but it (and this album) grew on me steadily, and I firmly believe that this is their most accomplished, most satisfying, best album to date. And I don't do that with all of their work, which is how I can tell my love for Drums and Guns and Trust when they came out isn't just "I like it because it's new."

A lot of Low's best material, after all, does have a certain quality of stasis (to quote glenn mcdonald on Radiohead: "if you get to the end and nothing has happened, that's your fault"), and while there was nothing wrong with Low's sound, hearing them expand their palette so radically while never sounding any less like themselves is kind of thrilling. And more importantly, despite the fact that the 'chorus' is just one word (a semi-obscure Former Soviet Sovialist Republic) repeated four times it's one of the most thrilling things I've heard all year. Alan and Mimi have been singing in not-quite-harmony and not-quite-unison for years now, more than a decade; but rarely has that sounded as interesting as it does here. Alan lowers his voice a bit, getting slightly sandpapery, while Mimi lilts hers upwards on the "rus," quavering a bit as she holds it. If you don't listen to them much all of their singing probably sounds roughly the same, in the way that I have trouble telling metal guitar solos apart sometimes. But for the connoisseur those small, telling touches mark both a control and intent that Alan and Mimi just couldn't wield during the early years and a subtly goosebump-raising performance here.

I'm don't really want to describe it any more, let alone try and convey how it makes me feel. There's a video you can download on Low's site, if you want. "Belarus" isn't even one of the best songs on Drums and Guns in my estimation, but it is the one that is maybe most characteristically Low, the one that does that thing they've thrilled us with for so long in the purest fashion. It gives me chills, and not because they're singing about snow.

1 comment:

Inverarity said...

I see the song being about life in the second world - Belarus being the last Soviet-style country in the western former USSR.

It's amazing what the band can evoke with just a handful of lyrics. The music says a great deal on its own.