Friday, May 18, 2007


I chose "Starfire" today for reasons other than historical progression, but after I started writing this entry I remembered with something approaching ruefulness that it also happens to continue the story of how I fell in love with Low, so I might as well start there. After getting and loving Things We Lost in the Fire it took me a while to investigate the rest of their discography. That happens to me a lot, and for two completely separate reasons. The more interesting one, which unfortunately does not hold with Low, is that there are albums I like, and even love, where I don't ever want to hear anything more by that band, where I feel like I have enough of that artist (A Hundred Miles Off by the Walkmen is a good example; I love that record more than I should, and I like a few other tracks I've heard, but I have an almost shocking aversion to getting any of their other albums). But often, it's just a case of time/money/laziness problems on my part.

The one thing I did do fairly quickly was download three free, legal Low MP3s from their label (I think, it was years ago). I got "Shame" from Long Division and "Two-Step" and "Starfire" from Secret Name, which I'd read about on (sadly, they started cleansing their online archives the same time they started reducing most of their album reviews to 200 words or so) and allmusic for a while at that point. And to be honest, if it'd just been "Starfire" I might have stopped right there.

I don't really think it's a bad song, there's a million things I'd take "Starfire" over, but that's now. I don't skip it when I'm listening to Secret Name, but it's not on my computer either (I don't keep whole albums I own on my computer, just 3-5 highlights from said albums). I don't think I've ever been moved to put it on a mix, which is a rarity for Low songs - hell, I've put "Home" on a mix. And at first, I actually experienced palpable dislike for "Starfire."

It's Alan's voice, especially at first; every line in the verse, which is seperated out line-by-line by Mimi's responding, wordless vocal and a stringed drone (violin? viola?) starts in a higher-pitched part of his range and then clumsily ascends to where he just sounds shrill and forced. In latter part of the track, once he and Mimi are exchanging "la la la"s the song actually becomes compelling to me, but that first section just turned me off. It's not as extreme as I may be making it sound; further experience with their discography suggests that "Starfire" is well within the limits of what Alan usually does. But he certainly doesn't do it on Things We Lost in the Fire; that is a record of uniformly smooth vocals, and I wasn't used to what he does on "Starfire" at all (you can compare it to the way I didn't like John Darnielle's voice the first time I heard The Sunset Tree, and now I love every song he sings). Of course, I'd soon find out that Low's music wasn't all like what that first album had prepared me for (and maybe on Monday I should do "Coattails" or something to talk about how surprised I was at how loud some of their songs are)

I don't dislike the structure, the Mimi-and-string response to each line is actually quite compelling, but the constant guitar burble is maybe actually, and it feels weird to say this about a Low song, a bit too busy. It works well on Secret Name coming right after the stark, terrified opener "I Remember" (one of my favourite Lows songs) to warm up the album a bit - I'm actually surprised that the above AMG review says "the music is so warm it's a literal caress from the speakers." Even "Starfire" feels a bit standoffish, to say nothing of "Don't Understand," "Lion/Lamb," "Immune," etc.

And as for what "Starfire" is about, this brings me to another of my frustrations with the band. I mostly love the new website (check out the video for "Breaker" while you're there!), but I kind of hate the information that's gone missing from the old site. Half of the albums have lyrics "coming soon" still, and the old page where Alan gave you brief tidbits of information on each song is gone completely. I miss that page. I loved that page! If it's a case of not having enough time to do it and someone from Low is somehow reading this page, I absolutely volunteer to do whatever transcribing, etc. can be done remotely, free of charge. As for "Starfire," my memories are a bit hazy, but Starfire is a friend of theirs (he's thanked in, I believe, a couple of the albums) who used(?) to work as a paramedic and who planned with Alan at one point to open a pirate radio station. Hence:

We'll call it Starfire, who will know?
I want a station of my own
I have the tools
I have my rules

I'll load the back end, you can drive
Broken bodies all the time
Let's take a ride
Starfire tonight
Ten thousand miles away

(again, except for some "la la la"s, that's the whole song)

Now, I don't want the detailed stories of the genesis of each song, but that's not what the song notes were. And sometimes knowing just a bit of the background makes (for me at least) the song so much more resonant, even magical. Low tell so much of the story by leaving so much out, and that's whatI've come to like a little about "Starfire," even if there are problably ten songs I'd swap for it on Secret Name.


Michael said...

Wow. I think "Starfire" is the first Low song I ever heard. They played at my college a couple times--and this was something of a "hit" as much as any song could be at that school. I've always loved it as a highlight of Secret Name.

Ian said...

From the recovered song backgrounds page, in Alan's words: "loosely based on the life of our friend, scott, who is a paramedic and pirate radio station owner. he's done more for the music scene in duluth than anyone. tried the strings on the recording on a whim. la la section at end is popular with children."

So I guess I'm a bit of a child?

Inverarity said...

This is one of my favorite Low songs, perhaps because "starfire" is an awesome word and I love (and have some experience with) pirate radio. I have to say, though, the giddiness of Alan's vocal really makes the song for me.