Thursday, November 8, 2007


So let's talk about album tracks. As I might have previously mentioned, most of my favourite albums are very concise (I'm thinking of anything from Closer and Armed Forces to Phosphorescent's Pride and Drums and Guns). "Album tracks," as the term is usually conceived among music fans, don't recall occur in those cases; it's hard to say that "Isolation" or "Senior Service" or even "Hatchet" are filler. And longer albums that I love, like Trust, don't have filler, not exactly; but they do have songs that are valuable mainly in that they're aesthetic ballast, tracks that continue to convey the mood of the album or otherwise say or do something significant, but that aren't exactly highlights.

That's actually why I like the longer albums that I do; their scope and sprawl are just as important as the laser focus of some of my slimmer favourites. Trust especially; anything that's long enough and structured the right way to make me think of it as a vinyl double album (see my post on "John Prine") definitely qualifies as a record I love because of, not despite, its size. "Tonight" nestles in the middle of the second 'side,' one that's all about lulling you into complacency before grim Mormon fable "The Lamb" jars you back into uneasiness. This is the last track before "The Lamb" arguably tips Trust over the edge into a blackness it never recovers from (and who would want it to?), and it's suitably anticipatory.

It's the only Low song that comes to mind when I think of backwards music; the restless rustle of the backwards guitar and Mimi's not-quite-dubby phased out backing vocals are definitely the only Low track that make me think of My Majestic Star. Mimi's lead vocals (for, as with "See-Through," this is another solo turn for her, something that's been in painfully short supply recently!) are calmer and deeper than they sometimes are, carefully measuring off each line like it's a lullabye. She doesn't play drums here; it's just Alan and Zak (and presumably Tchad Blake, from behind the mixing desk) ebbing guitars in various ways behind here. It's not what you'd play as the curtains are about to come up for the first time, but what you might hear while they're still down.

A song like "Tonight" makes you wish that Alan was still gnomically parsing what Low's songs mean; the sound of her voice makes this track one of comfort, waiting, and hidden knowledge, but the sense of it eludes you:

Trying to keep time
Closer than we like
Memories still lie

Faces of the day
Pressed up to your spine
Blessings still to come

Precious things unsaid
As the night begins
Who will hang his head

I do love quoting lyrics, it's true, but the main reason I often just present full sets in these entries are of course two-fold: not only are they so short (if I wasn't giving each line its own space I'm pretty sure "Tonight" would take up about three lines) but I'm genuinely unsure which part is important enough to excerpt. "Faces of the day / Pressed up to your spine" certainly catches my eye in terms of sheer "what's going on here?" levels, but what does it mean? If there's a religious message here, then it certainly goes over my head (although really, "Tonight" is probably just yet another counterexample to anyone who still thinks of Low as a "Christian band" or what have you). That closing question, "Who will hang his head / Tonight," is going to come back in a very bad way in "The Lamb" once the last bits of guitar filigree unwind. But for now, all breath is bated; the show is about to begin (even if you've just heard "Time Is the Diamond" a minute ago), and we're all in our seats.


Inverarity said...

You really captured the effectiveness of the song as a curtain-raiser. It's funny - I usually pay pretty close attention to Low lyrics, but this one never made too much of an impression on me. I think the infinite layers of reverbed guitar cause the lyric-parsing part of my brain to seize up, or something.

As of this moment, I think my favorite albums are Trust, Destroyer, and Drums & Guns. I don't know what order those should be in, though.

Ian said...

Thanks - one of the nice things about this project is it forces me to notice some of these things I otherwise wouldn't. Weirdly(?) enough, I think those are my three favourites too; I think I'd go D&G, Trust, then the Great Destroyer. Long Division and Secret Name make up the second tier.