Monday, July 16, 2007

Just Stand Back

Aaaaaand we're back. I flew back in from Vancouver on Tuesday but between going right back to work at the used CD place and hanging out with my girlfriend (also significant quantities of jet lag, sleep deprivation and an open bar wedding reception last Saturday) I just couldn't bring myself to update my personal blog, let alone Too Many Words, Too Many Words. Still, I find myself more than a little refreshed by the break, now that muzziness has (hopefully) fully been washed away from driving across this great country of ours. The Praries were especially trippy, there's something surreal about all that flatness and speed.

As you might know from the entry below this one, the night before my friend and I set off on our road trip the girlfriend and I drove to Toronto to see Low live (well, and Wilco). The experience was great, as always, and in the car I played her Drums and Guns as well as The Great Destroyer so that she'd have some familiarity with what they might play. I actually lent them to her at her request a week or so before, but like me she has trouble getting around to things sometimes. What struck me most, however, and what made me wish I'd included this album on the MP3 CDs I made for the trip, was how great an album The Great Destroyer is for driving. I mean, yes, it's still a Low album, but as I noted at the time the differences are much more than just skin deep. The record has taken on new depths in my estimation now that they've shown with Drums and Guns that it may in fact be an offshoot rather than a new direction, and there's something joyous about the songs, even as they still partake of the stark menace that I'm realizing more and more as I write my way through the catalog is Low's real calling card, that makes the open road (well, the 401) the perfect environment for them.

This isn't an album review, so I'm not going to get into how I think this plays out overall, excepting a quick mention that the sequencing and track selection of The Great Destroyer is absolutely fucking flawless. I also mentioned in my review the three tracks ("California," "Step," and our subject today) that strode a good deal closer to pop than most of the band's work, but I think pop was the wrong word to choose; radio rock might be more appropriate, which gives you an even better idea how weird they are from the standpoint of the rest of Low's work (hey, stuff as far back as "Venus" or "Over the Ocean" could be described as pop, or at least populist).

"Just Stand Back," from the opening guitar crunch onwards, best sums up the wide open road feeling that surfaces so oddly on The Great Destroyer, and for once when Mimi harmonizes along while Alan sings "Here comes the knife / You better just stand back / I could turn on you so fast" my response is not hushed reverence but rather to lustily sing along (slightly off-key, I'm afraid). Mimi might not be a very flashy drummer, but here as in the rest of the record she's in the pocket enough that I find myself thumping the steering well in time, and Alan is clear enough in his aim that they mainly stick to a few perfunctory, cryptically mocking verses ("It's a hit / Its got soul / Steal the show with your rock n' roll" is, like many of his lines, both biting and oddly self-incriminating) before launching into that linked series of refrains that constitutes both chorus and fadeout. The aforequoted lines are not miles away from the sort of thing Low often include in their songs; the difference with "Just Stand Back" is the kind of breezily heedless way they sing them. Normally any sort of threat of cutting would be bleak and deliberate and more than a little unsettling. Here's it's effective precisely because they don't sound like they're paying too much attention to you, and so you might actually get cut (cf. The Wrens' "Surprise, Honeycomb," one of the best songs ever written from the perspective of a spree murderer because it doesn't go out of its way to be cryptic).

The Great Destroyer doesn't really have a narrative (nor do any of their albums to these ears, save maybe Drums and Guns) but even if it did I'm not sure where "Just Stand Back" would fit in. Musically, the kind of change-up it provides is an essential part of the album's success (although I'm glad they kept things varied, as an album of "Just Stand Back"s and "Step"s might be a bit much), but lyrically I'm at even more of a loss than normal except for vague generalities. Once again I wish the song backgrounds part of the site had been kept around for longer.


Inverarity said...

Welcome back! I've missed the blog. My Low collection has grown significantly in the meantime, though.

God, I love this song. And the album in general. But the relish and abandon Alan sings it with is the best part. I'm not convinced that he's not talking about emotional violence. He seems to identify strongly with the perspective character, and the vocal's enthusiasm is, to my ears, tinged with some self-hatred.

Inverarity said...

Oh, and the middle 8 gets me every time. "Just like diamonds in your hand" - it's so unexpected and unrestrainable.

Ian said...

Thanks! What'd you grab while I was gone?

I think your comments on "Just Stand Back" are pretty apposite; I'm not sure what it says about Low (or about my love for them), but Alan does seem to be almost perpetually self-lacerating. Drums and Guns is maybe even more so.

Inverarity said...

Long Division, the Dead Pilot EP, Secret Name, and Trust. I still need to pick up I Could Live in Hope.

Trust is a lot better than it gets credit for. Dead Pilot is hard to listen to, but really great. The others, despite great moments, don't seem as good as albums.

Ian said...

Secret Name is actually often held up as their best, but of those I think Trust is definitely my favourite. I don't have Songs for a Dead Pilot yet, although apparently someone's sending it to me.