and I can hear 'em


Monday, June 4, 2007

Pissing

I am a person who gets mad easily. I would say I get mad irrationally, but that kind of seems like a truism. I'm not mad right now (I find that those of us who can blow up usually don't spend too long stewing about it), and I wasn't for most of the day, but I did have a good maybe five minutes of full-on seeing red. For those of you without tempers (lucky!), I can inform you that "seeing red" isn't nearly as figurative as you might think. I wasn't angry about anything important, I didn't do anything about it and it's gone away entirely, but for that period of time my vision was actually tinged with what I can only assume was blood (I can't think of any other reason one's vision would become tinged throughout with red, but I'm also not a biologist).

This is a state that, it may not surprise you, Low don't tackle very often. Oh, they do anger, but usually of the clenched-teeth stifled kind, or the baffled kind, or the righteous kind (or, occasionally, of the self-righteous kind, but we'll save that for later). The song that might come closest is also in all probability my favourite Low song.

Now, I don't want to pretend I'm some sort of constantly angry person, and I'm not wholly sure why I love "Pissing" so much. It's certainly striking; even more so than its album-mate "Everybody's Song" and precursors like "Stars Gone Out" it's loud, starting ominously with Zak's deathknell bass and the beginnings of what will soon swell to some of the loudest, most layered guitar on any Low track. Alan and Mimi's singing is fairly straightforward for them, very much in line with what you'd expect, but the track just slowly builds and builds over Mimi's steady percussion until three minutes in the wail of the vocals builds to a point and the song explodes. There are more intense Low songs lyrically, but not sonically; the menace in the air is palpable and more than even a song like "Don't Understand;" there the threat is approaching, in "Pissing" it reaches us. The lyrics are, at most, abstract:

I can't see
Sing the darker of

Pissing on my toes

Knowing what I know
I know

I'm waiting
Like a loyal whore*

Under every stone

Lovers sleep alone
Alone
Alone

Lovers sleep alone
Alone
Alone


It's between those two despairing cries of "Lovers sleep alone" (sung, of course, together by Alan and Mimi) that the song really kicks in. Through it all the rhythm section just continues to ratchet along, drawing the track tighter and tighter. "Pissing" envelops you just like rage does, and then it recedes, the bass never slowing, the drums never pausing until the very end. When it hits, the track stops suddenly, but there's no other way to get out of "Pissing." It descends on you like a rage, and like a rage it snaps suddenly, leaving you clear-eyed and dazed.

Seeing Low live, which I've done once and will do again soon when they open for Wilco, is one of the best things I've ever done, and the version of "Pissing" I saw then was just monumental. Until you've seen Zak's implacability at the bass, Alan's anguished contortions, Mimi's calm, you haven't really heard this song. It's louder as well, of course, which helps. It's a song that you have to let wrap around you, ugly to the point of beauty, brutal to the point of grace. It's not really like anything else in Low's catalog, and I'm not sure I want it to be, but it's one of the more visceral experiences you can get with a CD and a stereo.

*After it was pointed out to me, I agree that "Like a loyal whore" isn't the line here, although Low's own site says that. But I can definitely hear "Michael, blow your horn" instead. Which is just all sorts of interesting.

7 comments:

Inverarity said...

Well said. I've never had another experience comparable to hearing this live, five feet from the stage, centered between the two amp stacks.

Ian said...

I wasn't quite that well situated when I saw it, but I was definitely near the front, and it's still one of my favourite memories. Glad someone else has been there!

killa bee said...

love this blog, love low (you beat me to it). i'm doing the magnetic fields...consider checking me out/blogrolling me?
the book of love.

Ben said...

I really love 'Pissing', and you've done a great job of describing it - but for me it's a bit out of place on The Great Destroyer. The sense of menace that you very rightly identify makes me think it really harks back to some of the stuff from Trust.

Ian said...

That's an excellent point that, oddly enough, has never occurred to me. But weirdly enough, since for me The Great Destroyer is the album of Alan's breakdown this one always fitted in perfectly with it. The positivity you talk about at the end of the album seems extraordinarily hard-won to me (which makes it more precious), and "Pissing" being placed in there only emphasizes that.

Of course, having said that, I can only imagine what'd it be like to have this song following "I Am the Lamb" or "John Prine" or something.

Inverarity said...

They don't sing "loyal whore"! But I can't figure out what they do sing! It's frustrating!

Ian said...

You know what? I think it's "Michael, blow your horn."