and I can hear 'em


Monday, October 22, 2007

Not dead

Apologies for the longer hiatus than usual; I've been up to my neck in grad school, which means things here will be sporadic for a while. But TMW,TMW will continue to update, and will finish. Unless I get hit by a car or something.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

...I Love

A simple little thing, a painfully sentimental ode in its original form, goddamned Countrypolitan backing and all. Tom T. Hall didn't exactly have much of a voice, and although the schmaltz of the original means its popularity is no surprise (I'd never heard it before, mind you), Low do a few things to improve it immeasurably.

Setting the song to quiet acoustic guitar and Mimi's voice gets things off to a better start, and while singing about how you love "Birds of the world / And squirrels" is still pretty fucking twee, it kind of works with her forthright delivery, even if she does sometimes sound like she's making about to laugh (her voice on "And squirrels" is fantastic). Her delivery of the punchline - "and I love you too" - is gorgeous in any case (Alan softly harmonizing).

I guess she didn't want to sing the verse about "coffee in a cup" (rhymed with "little fuzzy pups," naturally), which brings us to the other thing that means that not only does their cover of "...I Love" not outright suck, but I actually keep it in my playlist on my Mac; Zak steps in and rescues it. It's the only time (that I'm aware of) that he sings on a Low song, and while part of my love for that verse does stem from the fact that he sounds kind of like Todd Burns (hee!), his deadpan delivery is perfect for the song. Low walk the tightrope here of acknowledging in their performances that the song is, at times, mawkish, while still being sincere in their version of it. Which is something a million indie bands covering huge hits could stand to learn.

Also interesting, however, is that Zak changes the lyrics (I think); the one I found on Youtube of Tom T. Hall singing "...I Love" has "I love coffee in a cup / Little fuzzy pups / Old TV shows / And snow." Zak's last two lines are instead "Bourbon in a glass / And grass," which despite my distaste for Jack Daniels are one hell of an improvement.

And I love you too.

Monday, October 1, 2007

Closer

Hold me closer than that

It's a song of deep devotion, of desperation, of quiet strength, of amazement at our strength, of profoundly ineffable metaphor, of fear in the face of the future, of the human desire not to be alone, of the way the one we love is all we need, of the trap of material possessions, of obsession, of resilience, of love.

Hold me closer than that

It's no wonder they dedicated this one to the people of NYC, playing there in late 2001. "Closer" makes you feel like, as long as that one Other is with you, holding you, the world can't matter. It depicts with scraped-raw precision why we choose to give so much of ourselves to those we love, and why it hurts so much when they're not there any more, and why we do it anyways. Why, in short, we keep leaving ourselves so open. It's only openness which gets you to the point they're at here, where you can be honest in your desire and need and insecurity and both of you wind up singing the same song.

Hold me closer than that

Alan: "feels better when we play it slower, live. a love song, i guess - that's obvious."

Hold me closer than that

Ida Pearle's violin is probably the thing that makes Things We Lost in the Fire so beloved, and the sweet, low swing of it that introduces "Closer" is crucial. I hear drums and bass and some strings, but I can barely hear guitar at all (a fairly common thing for this album and its predecessor). After each verse or chorus the violin glides in again to repeat its motif, which doesn't quite echo the vocal melody but does manage to shadow the emotions therein. You might say that this song is half-way between the album version of "Will the Night" and their older material, but if anything it's stronger than either; more deliberately paced (although not necessarily slower) than pretty much anything else Low has done, it moves with the slow sweep of decades. But although "Closer" speaks with the quiet confidence of emotions that go down as deep as bedrock, there's still this feeling of crisis. Things we lost in the fire - there's a small drawing on the back of the album "Closer" is on with a little house in flames. Did their house burn down? Are they standing in the ruins? Are they all they need, and did they realise that before? "Closer" is talking about constant, modest truth, but also of the way life snaps us awake into realization sometimes.

Hold me closer than that

We all have our own dark, raging seas.

Hold me closer than that

"Closer" is song ultimately reduced to voice but not words. The violin and Zak's bass and a progression of "la la la"s as tenderly heart-rending as anything else this side of Readymade's "Hamburg" send us through the final minute; a plea, a celebration, an elegy, an evocation, a haunting, a duet. It's reductive and true and irrelevant to say that it's the rest of the song, the rest of the album, the rest of their career of wrapping voices around each other in microcosm. Alan and Mimi have written and performed a song about the scary, wonderful, inescapable embrace of love, about how we wake up one day and ask "how'd we ever get by?" About words we'd never take back and then, implicitly, about the question we ask when we're afraid we might after all. It is one of the most moving and beautiful songs about romantic love I have ever heard, because it refuses to avoid looking the terror, sorrow and uncertainty of love right in the eyes at the same time as it acknowledges the things about love that make it worthwhile despite all that. "Closer" tells us that in our relationships as in everything else, we are all we have, and our constant re-dedication to each other, to asking that question is all that keeps us together. It's the most perfect evocation of the sweet melancholy of needing someone that you will ever hear, and it couldn't be done by any one throat, or by any two conventional throats. It takes Alan and Mimi's most seamless melding, until you're not hearing two people singing together, or even just one person, but a relationship. If they ever do fall out of love, we will always know what it was like, and most of us have cause to be jealous.

Hold me closer than that

If I ever get married, it will probably have to be with someone who also wants to take our first dance to "Closer."

Hold me closer than that.