Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Don't Understand

Woof. I managed to not quite get around to this today, as I spent much of the afternoon on the phone fixing my phone and internet connections. Which doesn't mean you don't get an entry; but I dug up my old piece on "Don't Understand," so both to put something here while being able to go to sleep and to embarrass myself into not slipping up again, here's what I thought of this song back in April 2004. Comments from the present time in []s and italics.


Low are pretty much the only band I love that make me want to listen to nothing but themselves. I put on other acts I love (Plumtree, say, or the Wrens) and after finishing listening to them I want to listen to another record, sure, but necessarily another of their records. [Sheesh, put that more awkwardly, Mathers.] After finishing The Curtain Hits The Cast or Trust or Long Division or Things We Lost In The Fire or especially Secret Name, I just want to listen to more Low. Luckily, as you can see, I have plenty of options.

There are many reasons why I love Low, [STOP REPEATING THEIR NAME] but their lyrics, as oblique and fragmentary as they are, certainly form a large part. Yes, the songwriting two-thirds of Low are Mormons - what of it? It gives extra meaning to some of their lines if you know about Mormonism or Christianity in general. They honestly seem to be out to convert anyone so much as Mimi Parker and especially Alan Sparhawk are grappling with their own beliefs and the world. [Err... yes, this was posted with a "don't" missing from this line.] Note that almost all of their songs are sung in the first person ("Whore" being the only counterexample I can think of) [There are a number of songs sung as direct addresses, actually - but it's been a while since I've thought about the prevelance of "I" in their catalog, aside from the brief remarks in my entry on "Alone"]; Low's songs are compelling partly because they contain an astounding catalog of human folly, and they don't ever pretend that they are above it just because of their faith.

But then there are songs like "Don't Understand." It, arguably, belongs to the group of songs I've just mentioned; but like most of Low's songs, I dare you to tell me why other than just the fact that you know it does. It starts, and continues, with a weird sampled sound repeated over and over again, without ever gaining any variation; feedback from Alan's guitar coasts over the top. At around two minutes in, cymbals and then the repeated beats [WTF is up with that phrasing?] of bass and guitar join in. They sound like a death knell. After another minute, Sparhawk starts singing. As with much of Low's music, and similarly to the Radar Brothers, there is a sense that something horrible has happened/is happening/will happen. The lines "Drag you to town / treat you just like a son / alone in my house / did they teach you to run?" have a particularly awful resonance if you remember what Son has a central place in Alan's worldview. And then the moments that lock this song inexorably in my memory; Alan sings (with Mimi offering harmony)






And with each syllable the three instruments crash down like an axe. The idiot, gibbering sample in the back continues unabated. the song crashes along, nearly seven minutes and total. And then it, quite literally, recedes. That the next song on the album begins "Soon it will be over / I laughed under my breath over your shoulder" always creeps me out.

Low's music is, for whatever reason, one of the most intensely visual forms of music I can think of. The images the songs call to mind don't tend to be narrative so much as impressionistic, but they are powerful nonetheless. Slow motion and harsh lighting are often involved. You could quite easily score an experimental film to, say, Secret Name (where "Don't Understand" is found). The images for "Don't Understand" don't make much sense, and in any case they change. But for me this song is the sound of every repressed memory struggling back to the surface, of a small child crying in a closet.


As clumsily as it's written, that entry still holds basically true for me. I want to write something about the use of terror in Low's songs, and inexorability, and the feeling of being pursued. But honestly, "The Lamb" is where I'll be locating at least some of that. The key with "Don't Understand," I think, is that contrast/relationship between the weird sample loop and the steady crash of the three main instruments on the 'chorus.' It's a great song, and as I mention here perfectly placed on Secret Name. I just wish I could have written more eloquantly on it.

Important Note: I've just discovered I do not, in fact, own the Songs For a Dead Pilot EP, which I thought I did. Could any helpful folk hook me up with those tracks until I can scratch up enough money to buy it myself? If anyone has the never-seen-by-me Low/Spring Heel Jack Bombscare EP that'd be fantastic too.

1 comment:

Ian said...

This also has my favourite commentary from the old Low page. It reads, in full: "he stayed with us one summer, growing up on the farm."