Thursday, August 16, 2007


"July" is a surprising song. So much so, in fact, that one of the ways it's surprising I didn't realise until I went to rip it in service of writing this post.

So let's start there. "July" is 5:35, although if you'd asked me before I looked at it tonight I'd have said it was under four minutes at the very most. And for such a long song (by this album's standards, at least) with the standard Low approach of two verses and two choruses, it's even more bizarre that the first chorus is over by the 1:15 mark. It's also odd for a Low song (although I didn't realise this at the time, TWLitF being my first Low album) for its relative fast pace and its nonconfrontational nature.

I'm not sure what Alan and Mimi are singing about; "They'll never wake us in time / Maybe we'll wait for July," sure, but for what? The verses are not just cryptic but contradictory, one expressing some sort of misgiving about missing "the date" but the second saying "at last" to the idea of the "them" in the song being "gone, I guess / With the rest, the rest." Much of this misgiving, however, is neatly curtailed by Mark D'Gli Antoni (of Soul Coughing) and his deft, one take use of the chamberlain, including the bits that sound kind of like a very delicate xylophone. Whatever else I think this record may be slightly lacking - the customary blood and thunder (and wonder and terror) that form the heart of my favourite Low albums, the way here their normal use of weird menace has mostly subsided into suggestive but cryptic lines that can be easily shrugged off - I can't deny that on a sonic level Things We Lost in the Fire is easily the prettiest Low album, and the playing on "July" could make up for a multitude of sins.

But it doesn't have to; the band saw fit instead to grace "July" with one of their more complex to date arrangements, which includes the song's shift at the three-minute mark. Maybe they'll wait until July, "or August, September, October..." and so on, as the singers trail off, drum and bass keep the pulse steady before Alan and Mimi engage in a winsome but surprisingly low key set of "la la la la la"s to lead us out of the track. It is one of the most striking sections in any Low song, and it brings both track and listener to a near halt with its sheer beauty. This is the way I was thinking of "July" as surprising; it's one of those songs on an album that I never think of as highlights only to be modestly floored every time I hear it. The hollow rumble of Mimi's drums under the surprisingly strong chorus (the only time on the song Alan's guitar is really heard, rumbling quietly) provide an earlier highlight, but what could just be a solid album track is elevated by the closing section into something that makes a fitting closer for Side One (although on the actual vinyl there are bonus tracks, so maybe it gets pushed back, I don't know).

It's worth noting that although it is of course played all over the album, TWLitF is definitely the Low record that is the least about Alan's guitar; never does it creep down listeners backbones or crack open the sky, never does he throw off the kind of supremely unsettling sparks that have gone a long way towards making Mr. Sparhawk one of the more interesting guitarists currently extant (and my love of Solo Guitar only shows how good he is at it). D'Gli Antoni's chamberlain doesn't quite take center stage away from the instrument, but it certainly fills enough of the sonic space that I didn't think about the lack of guitar until now.

Although my favourite part of "July" might be the brief uprising staged by the bass in the last ten seconds of the track, a part that sounds like it could launch right back into the chorus if they'd wanted to make "July" a bit of an epic. Maybe then I'd have a clearer memory of this admittedly lovely song when I haven't just listened to it, although to be fair to the album it's from Things We Lost in the Fire is one of those where I can never recall how much I like it until I take the plunge again.


Inverarity said...

This was the first Low song I loved. Like some of my favorite songs, it uncomfortably evokes a recurring childhood nightmare.

I can't remember the plot of the nightmare, only the particular flavor of "knowledge" imparted, and this echoes it scarily. There's the feeling of being forgotten, abandoned, of nobody noticing that you're gone.

To me, this is a song full of wonder and terror, and it's still one of my very favorite songs.

Ian said...

Although I don't share your particular dreams, you're speaking about something I definitely recognize (if the entry on "Anon" didn't tell you that already!), and although "July" doesn't tap into that particular vein much of Low's music does. You've actually neatly summarized one of the ways/reasons I love them so much!