Sunday, March 23, 2008

Mom Says

it's, um, about my mother. i lost a helium balloon. it was blue. mom said the astronauts would get it for me.

Aww, that sounds nice, doesn't it? Kind of sweet. Right up there with Calvin's dad telling him that the wind is just trees sneezing.

And "Mom Says," despite being on the coldest album Low have ever released (although not the darkest, that's Trust, or the angriest, that being Drums and Guns, or the sweetest, Things We Lost in the Fire, or...) and showing every sign of it, does start out kind of sweetly. He says "but I don't know," but it's the kind of thing little kids say, right? You can almost picture little Alan standing there, brow furrowed, trying to figure out if his mom is funnin' him.

The same with the next verse; this time mom says that "the car won't make it to the lake," but Alan is still doubtful (Mimi's vocals on this one are a backing murmur that is both lovely and also somehow supportive, like she's helping Alan tell his story rather than telling one of her own - unlike some Low songs, this is definitely two voices). This sounds to me like a parent telling the kid they can't do something the kid wants to do. Maybe there are other reasons and the car thing is a pretext, or maybe they're poor and the car is old. Either way, it's a little sad.

The next verse is a bit more intense:

Mom says
A farm's the best place to call home
But I don't know
I don't know
I don't know
Don't know
I don't know

I didn't grow up on a farm, but I did grow up in a smallish rural town. I know how he feels. And I know how it feels to get to the point in your life when you start questioning your parent's preferences, not even because you don't like them particularly, but just because they're your parents' and they've always been there (in a sense). He's not rejecting the idea (and as far as I know Alan and Mimi still call Duluth home, a city significantly smaller than Guelph), he's just doubting. The prolonged section where he meditates on the phrase "I don't know" also demonstrates something that The Curtain Hits the Cast-era Low does extraordinarily well: dwelling in a moment, going over it until we're not sure what it means any more. It's soothing and disorienting.

So there you go; another five minutes and change, a guitar part where it feels like you can hear every single not distinctively, bass and drums barely in the background, a slightly less cryptic narrative than usual, some nice singing. It'd be misleading to say that "Mom Says" is one of my least favourite songs on the album, although it is; but I'm one of those critics who doesn't necessarily believe that the best albums are the ones where you love every single song. I believe in ebb and flow and 'filler' that, while not as good as some of its companions and certainly nothing you'd bother listening to in isolation, is still satisfying and that makes sense in the context of the album. And that's what "Mom Says" is to me.

Until, just at the end, the instruments dropping out, Alan, alone, says

mom says
we ruined her body

Oh. Well, then.


Inverarity said...

Boy, my perception of this song is a lot darker than his.

Ian said...

Mine certainly is now; part of what I'm doing here is trying to get across just how shocking I found the last line the first time I heard "Mom Says." I think it puts a retroactive spin on the rest of the song that shifts how I respond to the rest significantly, and in a darker direction.

I'd love to hear more about your perception of it, though.