and I can hear 'em


Thursday, August 30, 2007

Ouch

I have been laid low by a combination of booze and hot peppers; sadly, my head now hurts far too much to think, let alone type. Back tomorrow.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Sunshine

So it's Covers Week here at TMW,TMW which (like all things here that make it look at all like I have a plan) is an impromptu decision based on me not having any particular song I wanted to talk about. I've done a few of these previously, of course

After "Down by the River," one of my favourite of Low's many covers, I thought that maybe I should cover the only cover that the band have included on one of their studio albums, apparently because "we just messed with it in the studio and kramer went nuts and insisted we do it for the record." It's certainly got the rich, almost watery tone to Alan's guitar (and even Zak's bass here) that Kramer brought to the first album, and it makes a perfect after-dinner mint for I Could Live in Hope, after the darkly ambiguous/humourous "Rope" that, as I said in that entry, feels like the 'real' end of the album.

I'm a sucker for that approach, one Low adopts as well on The Curtain Hits the Cast, Secret Name and Long Division. Having a lengthy, in some way weighty song followed by a brief contrapuntal closing track is something I think works extremely well (although I almost prefer the Great Destroyer and Drums and Guns approach of two somehow linked or contrasting shorter tracks, which is what gives the end of those albums such oomph), and it's something Low are quite excellent at.

And this is "You Are My Sunshine," albeit with truncated title to fit in with the rest of the one-word titles on I Could Live in Hope. Everyone knows "You Are My Sunshine," and most people agree that it's pleasant. But while Alan and Mimi's cooing duet delivery of the lyrics are indeed kind of heartwarming, that's partly in contrast to the lyrics. See, the version I know from summer camp, kindergarten etc is this:

You are my sunshine
My only sunshine
You make me happy
When skies are gray
You'll never know dear
How much I love you
Please don't take my sunshine away


There's already a melancholy undercurrent there, one that we normally ignored when belting it out at the top of our tiny lungs, but Low's minor key version brings it out. It's not lugubrious or even actually sad, but it's more a song you sing to someone when everything's going wrong for reassurance and support than what you hum to yourself on a nice day. And then there's the middle verse, which I'd never heard before:

The other night dear
As I lay sleeping
I dreamed I held you in my arms
When I awoke, dear
I was mistaken
So I hung my head and I cried


They end their version with another rendition of the first verse, but man! This one is pretty rough. "Please don't take my sunshine away" has a whole new connotation thanks to these lines; at best it could be about missing your sweetheart when they're on a trip or what have you, but something about that verse and Alan and Mimi's unhurried, deliberate delivery of the lyrics make it even sadder. This sort of thing - taking a cheery children's song and making it kind of heartwrenching - is why some wag came up with "sadcore" as a term. It doesn't hole for Low's music as a whole, but it definitely seems fitting here.

Alan says of the song "i used to work at summer camps for mentally handicapped kids and this song was by far the most popular camp song. we thought by slowing it down it would bring out the very sober, depressing theme of the lyrics. a lot of those old folk songs are like that..." That makes sense, and back in 1994 such an exercise would have been a lot more novel than it seems today. And again, it's not as if "Sunshine" actually dips into bathos, which a lesser version would. But heard on its own as opposed to as a sleepy, weepy lullabye after "Rope" it's not terribly successful, unless you just really love that melody from years of repetition.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Down by the River

Back in the Audiogalaxy days I ran into something that purported to be Low covering Neil Young's immortal Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere chestnut "Down by the River" (you know, where Neil shot his lady). Along with "Cowgirl in the Sand" from the same record "Down by the River" was one of the songs that convinced me that I did in fact love the electric guitar and Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere will probably always be among my favourite albums, so I salivated at the prospect. In retrospect, that was one of the most exciting things about Audiogalaxy/Napster/etc - the way you could find stuff you never, ever would have guessed a band would do.

It was slightly less exciting to discover that "Down by the River" dated from the split In the Fishtank EP that Low did with the Dirty Three, a band I did not know at the time (Whatever You Love, You Are has since become a favourite). Even more than that, though, and even sooner, I was profoundly disappointed in the song's extremely low levels of thrust even for Low. I haven't heard the rest of the EP, having never stumbled onto it, and back when I was younger this track kind of steered me away from seeking it out on trips to Toronto and the like.

Whereas Young's original fills its 9:13 with scorching, furious guitar and repeated vocal crescendos, the 9:37 that Low and the Dirty Three create begin with a full 5:30 or so of restless, almost formless spots of noise, something that might be tuning up, radio static, the worlds quietest, non-horn using free jazz band, sounds that remind me a bit of the opening and closing sections of Spiritualized's great "Rated X."

At at the three hundred and thirty second mark, all we get is a brief hint that the guitar (Alan's?) is going to repeat the figure from "Down by the River." Mimi starts singing around the six minute mark, and the rest of the song gets more and more conventional although remaining slowly paced and lovingly low key. But by 7:45, even that constant background hum of static drops out, and we're left with Mimi, Jim White's drums, Zak's bass and Mick Turner and Alan's guitars. Warren Ellis' violin never makes an appearance, which is a damnable shame. The chorus doesn't get sung until after the static recedes.

It's an incredibly odd choice at first, shoehorning most of the appeal of the track, and all of it that sounds like its ostensible source material into the back half and mostly the back third. You do get what you came for (Alan and Mimi's wonderful chorus, the way Jim White's drumming both meshes with Low perfectly and does things completely differently from Mimi, suggesting a different direction that one might argue they've belatedly followed with Drums and Guns), but first you get quite a bit else, and that else is even fairly off-putting.

The genius of the cover however, as revealed by further play, is the way that the glowingly hymn-like delivery of the Young song arises from the shattered, quiet mess that rattles around the track art first. It's as if you're rooting through a trash heap and as you continue one by one pieces lock into place until suddenly you're looking at a watch or something, one which is wholly unexpected and yet perfectly natural. In retrospect you can remember feeling something which wound up being the gears coming together into a system, but at the time it just felt like another shift in the pile of junk.

I don't have too many Neil Young covers (pretty much this and Mercury Rev, a little stoned, singing "Cortez the Killer" on a Deserter's Songs-era radio show), but I'd guess that even if I had a dozen more I wouldn't find them as satisfying as I now find the prolonged, audible birthing process of "Down by the River," which seems a lot more precious when you hear it in this form. The Low of 1999 were never going to do a raging, full-on version of the song and it probably wouldn't work anyways. But hearing it dilated like this is like watching The Deer Hunter, where the lengthy prologue makes the rest more effecting, especially now that I've heard the Dirty Three and can tell how careful a balance of both bands' sounds the song is.

Also, and you can guess what I've been doing recently, listening to Low and the Dirty Three's "Down by the River" a second time is like watching the "Wee Britain" episodes of Arrested Development a second time, because suddenly all the stuff you thought made sense now really makes sense; those episodes might be the show's best because it finally pulls the same trick on us the viewers that it always did to its characters and lets our own preconceptions colour what we're hearing. The second time we have different preconceptions and those episodes (already funn) become four times as funny, clever, an affecting. So it is with Low's Neil Young cover.

Monday, August 27, 2007

Sleep at the Bottom

A welcome rarity today at TMW,TMW; I'm tackling "Sleep at the Bottom" at the request of a reader, the redoubtable Robert P. Inverarity of the fine Fragments of a Cale Season oeuvreblog. He mentions that this track is pretty atypical for the band, as "Musically, it seems to lack the creeping malevolence that marks a lot of their catalog, though the lyrics do seem a bit sinister." I'm not sure how much he knows about the song, but there's definitely a reason for the difference we both hear in this one: "Sleep at the Bottom" is a spur of the moment collaboration with members of Piano Magic and Transient Waves, written on the spot.

The latter band are described on allmusic as existing "on the borderline between ambient electronica and trippy psychedelia without tipping too far into either direction," and the quixotic Piano Magic get the following description: "The lone thread running through Piano Magic's records, aside from Johnson's presence, is a sense of wistfulness. Johnson has explained his desire to soundtrack memories, and with that, Piano Magic has found their niche." Two acts, then, that certainly seem as if they'd be sympathetic enough to Low's sound (and vice versa) to make a good collaboration.

And yet, while "Sleep at the Bottom" is definitely a good song I can't help hearing more Low than anything here. Lauren from Transient Waves presumably provided at least some of the guitar here (the echoing, searching lead that makes the middle eight so stunning is her, I'd imagine) but what the various personnel from Piano Magic provided I'm not sure. That steady, calming bass pulse that runs throughout the song is, if not Zak Sally, at least very Sally-esque, and the spare kettle drum and snare hits that softly guide the track forward certainly sound like Mimi. The only vocals I can discern are Alan and Mimi's. Given Transient Waves' low profile and the ever shifting, protean sound of Piano Magic maybe what "Sleep at the Bottom" really reveals is how sympatico these three bands were in 1998. Low had never even met Lauren before, and yet the two brief accounts Alan gives of the song (from the box set and the old song backgrounds page) not only emphasize the on a whim nature of the collaboration but also make the whole thing sound very easy and natural. Low were in London, these other guys were around, bam - a song (and a single, on Rocket Girl records).

But while most of the parts I can put my finger on sound like Low, the result is definitely different. Robert's right to note that the music at least avoids the sharply focused menace Low usually carry with them; what's here is too drifting and spacey to give Alan and Mimi's softly falsetto voices any real bite. I don't mean that as a complaint, mind you; the song is successful enough I kind of wish this outfit had recorded a full album, or at least an EP (like the Low/Spring Heel Jack one, which I am still eager to track down; if Amazon.ca didn't offer it starting at $32 I'd have it by now...). The lyrics are a cipher, mostly just Alan and Mimi repeating "This life" with something that might be serenity, or foreboding, or regret. The rest happens near the beginning, and is rather hard to parse:

You want to sleep on the bottom
You want to look up and see them shout
Tonight

You want to sleep on the bottom
You want your voice in this life to
(Abide?)


But as Robert notes, there's definitely something characteristic of Low's typical uneasiness here, from the title phrase on down (which evokes for me at least the notion of "sleeping with the fishes"). Those concerns are made weightless, however, by the interplay of gauzy guitars and the too-fast-for-dub bass line; in addition to the way Low attributes any unseemly/unsettling desires or concerns to an inchoate "you" (something, now that I think about, that they do a lot; the band definitely has more direct address than most), the seamless but unique backing of the three acts together has everything to do with making "Sleep at the Bottom" as great, and atypical, as it is.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Postscript to "Anon"

"(Usually in these dreams of home you prefer the landscape to the right - broad night-lawns, towered over by ancient walnut trees, a hill, a wooden fence, hollow-eyed horses in a field, a cemetery... Your task, in these dreams, is often to cross - under the trees, through the shadows - before something happens. Often you go into the fallow field just below the graveyard, full of autumn brambles and rabbits, where the gypsies live. Sometimes you fly. But you can never rise above a certain height. You may feel yourself being slowed, coming inexorably to a halt: not the keen terror of falling, only an interdiction, from which there is no appeal... and as the landscape begins to dim out... you know... that...)"

Thomas Pynchon, Gravity's Rainbow

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Sorry about that

Uh, having kind of a crappy week. So much so I kind of forgot to update yesterday or today, and I need to go to work soon. Might be back tomorrow, definitely back Monday.

Monday, August 20, 2007

John Prine

After literally something like a couple of years where I managed to avoid sustaining the slightest cut or contusion, I recently put my hand down on a broken piece of plate in a moshpit. Just as I recover from that, a flying bed leg this morning drew blood from the vicinity of my left knee. My new bed is fabulous; the legs I bought from Ikea at the same time as mattress and box spring to hold it up higher (for my under the bed containers, basically) are not. Sadly when one failed this morning, slipping under and waking me up as the whole thing listed badly, I found out that the damn things are designed such that all four legs had impacted the head of the bolt holding them on into the wood of the legs. Cue about forty minutes of hammering and swearing on my part.

There are other reasons I'm in such a gloomy mood today (day off from work and everything), but it's the scrape that made me think of "John Prine." The title of the song is still mysterious to me, especially as someone who discovered and loved Great Days as a kid. When I first got Trust I was intrigued by the title, then horrified once I heard the song; had Prine died? (no) I have not even the slightest idea why they named this song after him, and given what I've found out about over the years about how musicians name songs it might well be for something like the particular chord sequence or other musical affect that's borrowed from Prine.

The song is in any case not what I imagined when I bought Trust on the heels of a growing fandom and a good review in the NME, which I used to read (and like British teenagers for decades, I swear it was better when I did). I loved it, but it was so dark, so forboding, so long... I still think of Trust as a vinyl double album. There are four songs longer than seven minutes spread throughout it (see tracklisting with times here, ignore crap review), each anchoring a 'side.'* "John Prine" closes out side three on the direst note possible, starting with a stomp like the bad-dream return of the horrifying "The Lamb" (more on that in a later entry, obviously) but this time instead of the stamp of the mob it's Mimi's drum. At 4:20 Alan's guitar starts stomping along instead of drawing wavery lines in the air, as Alan's solo vocals continue to be terrifyingly, toweringly grim. His delivery here, married with the lyrics, is despair and pain and staggering anger. Is it any wonder Trust is the album where I started worrying about him? That it's the reason the post-Great Destroyer breakdown seemed inevitable?

I verified the math
And double-checked the syntax
I tried to heal your body
But it just kept coming back
You never had a chance

I thought I was a poet
I had so much to say
But now I want to see the blood
I want to make them pay
Yeah, I can see the day

I made a place for children
They wanted all the answers
I gave them all my lectures
And now they're perfect dancers
'Cause I'm a perfect dancer

Sha la la la la...


I'm not saying those are the words of someone with mental illness, and indeed if you mean the dramatic media-friendly version of the term I don't think Alan is mentally ill. But the darkness there - maybe you need to hear it. Maybe you need to hear the self-excoriation in "But it just kept coming back" and "I had so much to say" and "Now they're all perfect dancers." The clenched teeth on "Now I want to see the blood" and "I made a place for children." The hate in his voice - not for himself and not for the person he's singing to/about, but for this disease, this... thing that reaches into your life and twists it until there's nothing left. Even a small injury is notable and terrible not so much for pain (although that can be true as well) but for the way your normal connection to your body is impaired. I couldn't grip things normally with my right hand for a few days after the cut. I'm left handed and it was a small cut, but I couldn't get away from it. I'm extremely lucky when it comes to health; I'm rarely sick or injured, but the minor ailments I do get give me a massive appreciation for how much it must distort your life to be truly sick or injured, and also a crawling fear of finding myself in such a state.

Alan, in "John Prine," doesn't have that option. He, or at least his narrator, is sunk waist deep in the horror, not even on his own account but for a loved one. But the song quickly spirals away from medical accounts (if I was better organized like the esteemable Inverarity you might see me pick out all the 'medical' Low songs and do a series, but as it is you're going to have to bear with me circling around the subject and returning to it periodically) into some other kind of nameless dread. The last two plus minutes of the song are taken up with Alan and now Mimi (and Zak) singing a point/counterpoint of "sha la la la la"s, Alan's distorted and guitar-echoed falsetto playing off against the more normal voices of his bandmates. After the preceeding five and a half minutes of death march, it's one of the creepiest things I've ever heard on a record.

And yet.... at worst Trust ties with Drums and Guns as my favourite Low album, and before the latter come out this year it had a clear lead as my favourite. Songs like "John Prine" are not the only reason ("In the Drugs," for example, is as sublime as anything else they've done, "Over the Ocean" and "Will the Night" included), but they do make up a significant chunk. It's as much an album track as anything else I've ever heard, and it along with the other long tracks on Trust make up the dark matter that swirls, invisible, behind the rest of the universe. I shiver a little each time I hear it, but the band has such total tonal and sonic control at this point, and such a fiercely uncompromising viewpoint, that I wouldn't want it any other way. The album is the dark star of Low's discography, and if they're never quite this harrowing again it's probably for the best, as far as their own health is concerned.





*(Music geek note: My sides would be divided as follows: 1-3, 4-6, 7-9, 10-13. I have no idea if a vinyl version exists, or how it would be structured if it did.)

Thursday, August 16, 2007

July

"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.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Home

Home
Everybody wants to go home
Even when they're old
Even when they're small
Home
Everybody wants to go home
Even when they're old
Even when they're small
Home
Home
Home
Home


The sound that starts "Home," a kind of cycling buzzing hum, always makes me think of plugging and unplugging a guitar into an amp. It takes the place of drums and bass, with only Alan's barely-there guitar and tremulous voice hovering over it. I always picture him making this one alone in the studio, barely picking the strings of a capoed guitar with one hand, and inserting and removing the plug for another instrument with the other.

I get the impression Low have always recorded in fairly friendly places, whether an old church or Steve Albini's studio or their own basement, but "Home" feels like a missive from the guts of some massive major label complex late at night, Mimi and Zak both dozing on couches, Alan missing his kids and his friends and his home and wanting to be anywhere less sterile. Of all the brief snippets of songs that Low scattered around their earlier albums - "Streetlight," "Stay," "Dark," even "Sea" - "Home" feels the most complete. Maybe because, like "Dark," it comes in at the end of the album, providing a brief postscript. But instead of providing a coda to the hypnotic "Do You Know How to Waltz?" "Home" slowly rears its head after the brief and ravishingly romantic "Will the Night," undercutting that song's swooning with a bit of desolation. It feels more self-contained, and after all the reviews that told me that Secret Name was nothing but pretty melodies and sweet voices "Home" was maybe the single biggest indication that there was something darker and deeper and more significant in this music.

Alan's slightly quavering voice ("perhaps a little homage to the swans," he says) and his choice of lyrics make this track an anti-lullabye. It always feels to me like it's being sung to someone 'small,' and that makes "Home" reassuring in a perverse way. Everyone wants to go home, even when you're old. Something about those word choices make me feel like "Home" could be a song from an old, dark fairy tale, and that plug noise (or whatever it is) turns into something more ominous: the rumble of storm clouds, or animals out in the woods, or just the sounds of the dark city. But in here it's okay. Although it sounds like it's being sung from far away, "Home" also makes me feel I'm the one actually at home, like I'm blessed in that way the narrator isn't. I love traveling, but I'm also one of those people who enjoys the return most of all and more often than not it's that rumble and quaver I'm humming to myself as I haul my luggage in the door.

I see looking this entry over that I've used some variant of "this songs makes me feel like" or "I aways imagine that" more often than most of Low's songs. Something about the late night stasis, Grimm Brothers feel and that plug noise just makes "Home" very evocative for me, and I can't help conjuring up associations every time I hear it. On another day you'd probably get a distinct but thematically related set. Up until "Walk Into the Sea" it's probably my favourite closer from a Low album.

Monday, August 13, 2007

Anon

[Blog update: A number of newer oeuvreblogs have sprouted up, devoted to T-Pain and Pavement, Marillion and Wilco (and how could I forget Elton John?). They are all linked at the side, and I wish their authors every success, these things are a bit of a commitment. Several of them are already favourites of mine.]

All Alan ever said about "Anon" (pardon the alliteration) is this: "from a dream i had one night." I don't remember most of my dreams - as far as my conscious self is concerned I might not even have them the vast majority of nights - but when I do there's a nightmarishly surreal cast to even the most pleasant of them that made me doubt Nietzsche's assertion in The Birth of Tragedy (one of my favourite books of all time, at least for the first 14 sections before it goes off the rails) that dreams belong to the Apollonian rather than Dionysian realm. In my dreams knowledge pops unbidden into your head; you know a is connected to or caused or will prevent b, know that person x loves/hates/is afraid of you, blithely know the identities of people and places you've never seen, and often in a moment of Dickian terror realise that these certainties are backwards; not because you were wrong to believe them but because they've been replaced by different certainties now (that man is an alien, she doesn't love you after all, you actually did win the lottery, and etc). Knowledge is no longer contained in your head, or even out there in the world, but lingers like a fog over everything; you might suddenly know for sure (and be right, inexorably, which is a real part of the terror) what the person next to you intends, or "what these cryptic signals mean" (cf.). There is no escaping this knowledge, no way to ignore or forestall or avoid it. It is as everpresent as vision to the waking man, only you cannot close your eyes or even go blind.

That the events themselves are happy or sad, wish fulfillment or worst fear, often seems secondary to the horrifying malleability of dream reality, which says more about my psyche than the nature of dreams I'm sure. The dreams I remember are the ones where I find myself caught in situations my dream self accepts implicitly even as I, inside, am screaming that it's not so, or at least that I have no way of knowing. It's the ontological equivalent of my repulsion from Cronenbergian 'body horror,' of the shifting flesh of the shapechanger. I love the films of David Lynch precisely for the cathartic effect of seeing that dreamlike certainty, and seeing it upset terribly; but watching it on the screen is wholly different from living through it. In the dreams I remember I know too much, with too much certainty, to have free will even as reality remakes itself freely; my knowledge always keeps pace with the dream world, and I remain trapped. Nothing is certain and everything is certain. Everything is true and nothing is permitted.

I have no idea what Alan's dreams are like. Aside from this:

Clean bill of health
Five years at the bell
No one will admit
The time or the places they've been

Anon

Three scales of men
Trace back to begin
No one will admit
Ignoring the age of my skin

Anon
Anon


I will admit, that second verse gives me chills. "Trace back to begin" by itself seems terribly suggestive of Low's method for this time (and "Anon"'s slow chime, the sound of what for any other power trio would be a brief, halting intro played out again and again with a hypnotic, not quite right certainty, is pretty emblematic of their sound then), but the gulfs of possible, hidden knowledge beneath "No one will admit / Ignoring the age of my skin" points towards so much of the Weird and Fantastic that I love because of a deep connection with terrors and fascinations that have lurked since childhood. It's the kind of statement you could find in The Prisoner, The Invisibles, Lovecraft, Sapphire & Steel, Illuminatus!, Dick, Quatermass or old (good) Doctor Who, Joy Division even, or if we expand stylistically a bit also in Borges, Calvino, Pynchon, those vast barely glimpsed secret networks that we fear have more agency, more reality than we do, the great central insight/terror posited most succinctly by Pynchon in the form of "nothing was coming. Nothing was already here." The horror that our most paranoid selves might be naively in the dark, which leaves our day-to-day selves where exactly? Outside of reality as it truly exists.

When I first heard this song I assumed that 'anon' referred to some sort of shorthand for 'anonymous,' that it was pointing to some sort of disavowal of authorship or some sort of lurking facelessness in the dream. Then I remembered that 'anon' is an archaic way to say three things:

1. At another time; later.
2. In a short time; soon.
3. At once; forthwith.

Later, soon, now. Nothing is coming. Nothing is already here. Clean bill of health notwithstanding.

...and that's why I'm fine with forgetting most of my dreams.

Thursday, August 9, 2007

Venus

A brief word about the new 'singles' tag on this post and "Over the Ocean," before I begin: I'm going by the listing on Low's own site, which means that not necessarily everything that has a video is a single (i.e. "Canada"). I'm only using it for those things that actually had a single release, and I'm only using the tag for the A-side in question, because to try and start labelling everything else collected on A Lifetime of Temporary Relief a b-sides, EP tracks, compilation tracks, etc would be a huge pain in my ass. So, non-a-sides there are covered by the tag for the box set, and everything else gets 'odds and sods,' at least for now.

Alan noted on the old song page that "Venus" was one of the first "pop-y" songs we ever did. we did hesitate over it, thinking it didn't fit with what we were about, but decided we liked the song too much. it would be just as dishonest to suppress something from the heart, as it would be to force ourselves to do a song we didn't feel strongly about. So in one sense, this is where the thaw began, and in another the decision to go with what was 'from the heart' as opposed to what 'we were about' is an important one that all bands must face and on where all the good bands wind up making the same choice. "Venus" is warm rather than chilly, sympathetic to its subject in a friendlier way than their first three albums had been. Not that I Could Live in Hope, Long Division and The Curtain Hits the Cast are devoid of empathy by any stretch, but there any compassion was implicit behind the control, even on something like "Over the Ocean." "Venus," meanwhile, manages to marry the uplift with the control into something that sounds practically Brill Building compared to much of their earlier material.

All three instruments lock into slow ascending progressions, Mimi's drums especially carrying the impression of an oddly touching volubility despite being very close to her prior work. Alan's guitar lilts along and Zak's bass, as it does deceptively often, winds up carrying the main melodic thrust of the song as Alan and Mimi sing one of their most obviously gorgeous melodies. There's a tiny bit of mellotron as they sing "Have you seen my dreams? / They're the same as yours, it seems" but that only serves to waft "Venus" a little higher.

And while I wouldn't call the song a lightweight, it definitely feels weightless compared to the rigour of a lot of Low's darker material (see for example the similarly 'catchy' "Joan of Arc," or even "Venus"' predecessor "Over the Ocean"). From the moment of the opening guitar fillip and Alan and Mimi softly crooning "Venus / I can hardly see ya" that makes up the chorus (or is the chorus the bit that goes "You're fed up with your friends / You're fed up with the end / You're fed up with the make-up" with such loving, wry fatigue?) the song hoists you aloft, kept up by the occasional snare hit and Zak's unobtrusive rises, basking in the sunshine of the repetition of that "make-up," the band once again making the oddest words tokens of comfort.

And what's the song about? I'm not sure, and Alan doesn't let anything slip, but despite the fact that nothing sonic about "Venus" reminds me of "Below & Above" or "Whore," I get the impression "Venus" may be about a prostitute. Which if so makes it their "Roxanne," only infinitely more benevolent, Christian even, in its focus on the woman's disappointment in her life and their shared humanity ("they're the same as yours, it seems") than any sort of revulsion, judgment, or punishment. Low aren't exactly afraid to hate the sin, but "Venus" is one of the clearer indications that they take seriously their charge to love the sinner.

And, in one of the key components of why I like Low as opposed to a hundred other bands with Christian themes, such love is only made easier and more important by the fact that Low explicitly and repeatedly include themselves in the ranks of sinners, and often Alan seems to reserve the harshest judgment for himself. But not here; "Venus" is sweetness and light personified, and any moral critiques or lessons are implicit rather than hammered into your head. It's a sweet song both lyrically and sonically and they have rarely topped it for pure swooning bliss.

Tuesday, August 7, 2007

Knowing what I know I know

Ugh, well that went south fast. Some other writing assignments (including a paid one) unfortunately had to take precedance, and I'm off to TO to interview Los Campesinos! tonight. For now, some excellent live video provided by Erik will have to suffice; I've got it set to "Pissing" but it's all quality.

Monday, August 6, 2007

Watch this space

I'm still in Kincardine visiting family for the long weekend (in Canada); today's update should happen this evening once I'm back in Guelph.

Thursday, August 2, 2007

Streetlight

And you can see her
Before it cracks and goes out
She throws rocks at streetlights
Keeps the streetlight changer busy


"This gradual loosening of traditional standards, encouraged by such poet-critics as Bob Grumman, has resulted in the word haiku being applied to brief, mathematical "poems," ("mathemaku") and to visual poetry by Scott Helms. This attempt at stretching definitions of haiku can be considered excessive, but Grumman attempts to defend his position by pointing to a similar blurring of definitional boundaries in Japan."

An interlude ("between play") is:
1. In music/theatre, as a separate creation/movement (see also overview of the different meanings of interlude in the Entr'acte article):
1.1 a short play or, in general, any representation between parts of a larger stage production: see entr'acte.
1.2 a piece of music composed of one or more movements, to be inserted between sections of another composition: see also intermezzo, and for the Baroque era: sinfonia.
2. In music, as part of a single movement:
2.1 a section in a movement of a musical piece, see: Bridge or Break.
3. General:
3.1 a period of time between or interrupting a larger one.


Alan: couldn't think of another verse

Wednesday, August 1, 2007

Lazy

Given how out-of-it, how spaced a lot of Low songs (especially early ones) sound, it says something about "Lazy" that Alan wrote "always wanted to hear a cool echo-y dub mix of this song" on the old Low song backgrounds page. He also notes that although his sister's name is Sarah, "it would be mean to say it's about her."

The bass and drums sound fairly standard but Alan's guitar has a shimmering, underwater feel that manages to not approach the Durutti Column's sound (the standard for that kind of guitar effect), and is due to a weird vibrato Alan got from an old amp (one he doesn't have any more). It's interesting to think what he could make of this sound, if he was still interested in that kind of effect. The band's sound seems to be moving away from the creepy indeterminacy of the early years to something more definite, more sharply defined (even on ostensibly foggy or distorted songs like "Take Your Time"). Low used to be more reticent, used to keep their cards closer to their chest.

"Lazy"'s lyrics only enhance that; aside from the refrain of "Sarah, Sarah you're lazy" there's just near-constant repetitions of the sentiment that "it's not enough, there's not enough for two." Alan's coy half-demurral makes me think that "Lazy" is a teasing glimpse back into the selfish ways of kids, not just his sister's but his own as well. Who with siblings hasn't realised as they grow up that you didn't need what you used to think you needed? "She says it's not enough for two," but so does Alan. They're both lazy, and while the aqueous atmosphere of "Lazy" suggests that may be because of humidity as much as anything, hindsight suggests they're also too lazy to make a productive compromise instead of haggling over what is probably, when you get right down to it, enough for two.