Wednesday, April 23, 2008

La La La Song

So a combination of last minute thesis scrambling (it's handed in now, I just have to pick up the bound copies once they email me and then go graduate), laziness in the wake of said last minute scrambling (this is the first time I've done nothing without guilt in a few years) and that Low documentary I posted about have left me a little unsure what to cover next, and when to do it. The time is now, obviously, but aside from knowing I wanted to tackle something off of Trust, I wasn't sure what.

"La La La Song" is, from title on down, relatively unprepossessing. Nestled away in the run of three short, relatively poppy songs at the end of the album between "John Prine" and "Shots & Ladders," it's even less immediately striking than "Little Argument With Myself" and "Point of Disgust." It starts with something that has historically been relatively rare in Low songs, an acoustic guitar, and Alan and Mimi sing like they're round a campfire. Alan's voice is a little drained, even when he's singing "Had your way with an unsuspecting public" to whoever he's addressing; he sounds tired and benevolent and maybe a little apathetic. There are handclaps in the background.

Between each verse the two lean away from the microphones and sings "la la la"s as an electric guitar cycles in the background, below the acoustic. The whole thing feels like a respite, a pause between more vigorous outings, and after watching You Might Need a Murderer (which, I have been told, will be released in the US on Touch & Go) I need one of those myself. Not that the lyrics are wholly innocuous:

I have learned all your secrets, so familiar
I know where you lay your head
Fear of god* and a disappointing father
Holds the hand around your neck

La la la ...

Sometimes I could just choke myself with laughter
Sometimes everything's so true
So when you come down from your death-defying labours
I'll still be in love with you

La la la ...

*('god' is left uncapitalized on Low's site, although I'd hesitate to assign too much importance to that)

There's a bit of a turn in Alan's voice at that 'laughter,' but the whole verse is still put across with this calm beneficence that is found virtually nowhere else on Trust (even "In the Drugs" is more fraught, albeit also more comforting). During the last set of "la la la"s Mimi starts thwacking away at her kick drum every so often, but other than that this is a remarkably even-toned latter day Low song. If I was trying chop down Trust into something shorter (remarkably for me, not something I'm interested in doing), this wouldn't be one I'd keep, but I'm glad it's out there. A low of the weight in the song is put on that weightless chorus, which especially with Mimi's later drum hits aches towards a kind of relief and profundity that rest of the song doesn't really even look at.

But really, my own high standards for the band notwithstanding, can't they have album tracks that are just good songs? Does everything have to fit into some sort of scheme in my head that 'explains' the band? I like "La La La Song" and the part that tends to run through my head when I think of it is that sweet "So when you come down from your death-defying labours / I'll still be in love with you" part, which despite the rest of the chorus I can't help thinking of as directed at each other. It's a nice song, with a bit of the tension/weirdness that I love about Low creeping in around the edges. Just because I'm still wrestling with what I think of what was in that documentary doesn't mean I can't enjoy songs like this one in a pretty uncomplicated way.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Fragments were so precious

I've been a bit busy, both with preparing for my defence and also with carousing (seeing as how the thesis is actually, you know, written), but I want to get to another entry soon; today, however, I have a number of things to write for PopMatters. My friend Erik sent me something to tide you over in the meantime, however; a Dutch TV special on Low, You may need a murderer (link is on the right, look for the word 'Low').

It's extremely well done and very interesting (and except for the intro, it's in English, with Dutch subtitles). In fact, anyone who likes Low enough to be reading this will find it's essential viewing. It's, uh, it's pretty harrowing in parts, to be honest, albeit in a very quiet, internal way. And it casts all sorts of interesting light onto various aspects of Low's music; after Alan talks about the levels of alcoholism "and the products thereof" in the area he and Mimi grew up in, hearing him sing a solo acoustic version of "Violent Past" on a dirt road in the middle of nowhere, Minnesota makes me think about the song very differently than I used to. Or actually seeing Mimi and Alan sitting there (in their home?), singing "I Started a Joke." Or the way Mimi looks at Alan as they sing "Little Argument With Myself" in their backyard. Or most stunningly when the filmmaker collapses the live and studio versions of "Murderer."

If this is ever available on DVD, or as past of some future set that corresponds with A Lifetime of Temporary Relief, maybe, I will be purchasing it immediately. Kudos to David Kleijwegt for his fine work.

(Later edit: You may need a murderer is indeed available on DVD now, and I did purchase it as soon as I could.)

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Everybody's Song

Interviewer: "How would you describe The Great Destroyer?"

Alan Sparhawk: "The new album is desperate. No. It's bitter... I'm tired of hiding it. Life is too short. If something is ripping you apart, you've got to let it out. You've got to let yourself say it and not feel like everybody is going to look at you like you're uncool because you fall down and start screaming about something that doesn't make any sense."

If there has been a more thrilling and surprising first-listen moment in Low's discography than that opening feebacksquealguitarrise of "Everybody's Song," I'm forgetting it. That's kind of what I got caught up with the first few times I listened to the album - the joy in noise coursing through the track, Alan and Mimi wailing out "nobody does it better!" over a track that sounded like "Canada" set free. But of course

Every day they torture us they torture us they torture us
And say nothing stays together

Breaking everybody's heart
Taking everyone apart
Breaking everybody's heart
Singing everybody's song

I personally think Low's strongest work has only really come once Alan decided to just let it all out, but that doesn't mean I'm going to make the last few records sound like uncomplicated fun times. "Everybody's Song" is thrilling because it's so vital, so alive, but it's alive with anger and frustration and pain (if there is a more queasily undercutting moment in Low's catalog than Alan's later question over squealing feedback, "Father why did I become / The angry son / The angry one," then again I'm forgetting it). There are demons here. You can't even say they're being exorcised, not really.

But it's got one of my favourite Mimi drum beats ever (that deadened clang on every second beat, the constant ride cymbal - it's awesome), the way the arrangement flows and shifts throughout the verses, the overdriven chorus - this is still probably Low's most successful full on rock song. At the time it was also surprising; earlier Low albums had been dark and disquieting, but never this raging. And we're not talking about the band's sound.

[Interview segment courtesy of PopMatters]