Friday, July 25, 2008

Born By the Wires

studies show that people who live under major power lines become "addicted" to them - Alan

Hmm, I've been trying to do one a week, but I guess one every two weeks is more realistic right now, sorry! Still, we forge ahead, etc.

I am still adjusting to having 80 gigs(!) to play with on my iPod, and so have only recently started throwing on mixes in addition to albums (I generally prefer to listen to the former). The last one I made isn't much of a mix; it's only four tracks long. And it's not really for listening, it's for falling asleep to; SIANspheric's "Where the Planets Revolve, I Wish I Was There," an old | head | phone | over | tone | track (whatever happened to those guys?), Yo La Tengo's "Night Falls on Hoboken," and a track readers of this blog might recognize.

If you read, or re-read, that take on "Do You Know How to Waltz?" you might notice that I make a mistake, mainly because I'd forgotten about the existence of the Songs For a Dead Pilot EP; isn't the longest in the band's discography by 'three or four minutes,' it's only 1:12 longer than "Born By the Wires." And it was an unexpected delight when I did get my hands on the EP to discover that Low already had one more epic in them than I'd remembered to count.

But I wouldn't try to fall asleep to it. And not just because of that unsettling, unsettled ending (quasi-random guitar twangs, the slow dying fall of restless rustling in the studio - a whimper, not a bang for sure), or even one of Alan's most discomfiting vocal performances to date, his feral whimper curled up even higher in the register, making me glad I can neither decipher his voice myself nor find translations online. Alan says they did it in one take - didn't know what we were going to end up with, and that seems fair - what they got was maybe the least welcoming thirteen minutes of all of Low's body of work, mostly just silence and the occasional thrum of a wiry guitar note, left to echo away until just before they hit it again. People who want their music to have thrills, melody, personality, maybe even in some sense even just content will likely want to skip to the next track, but to confirmed fans of minimalism it's very well managed, and once the thrums stop at eleven minutes the instrumental muttering of the rest of the track is actually kind of foreboding.

That they placed the results in the middle of the EP, before the even more implosive "Landlord" (with only "Be There," more on which later, in between) shows an admirable degree of perversity, and should also clue you in that Songs For a Dead Pilot is their starkest, most spectral release. Which is why I love it, of course, but also why it takes a degree of patience their other work doesn't, really; if all they did was this, I'm not sure I'd be as big a fan (this is an EP, after all, where the big pop moment is freakin' "Condescend"), but the contrast between this and, say, Secret Name, and certainly something like The Great Destroyer is compelling. You could argue something like Drums and Guns is in a sense in this lineage of refusal to compromise their sound, but it possesses a lot more melody and even openness to listeners than "Born By the Wires"' chilly terror or the EP as a whole.

One wonders whether they'll ever be this insular again, or even if one wants them to; but it's good to have a document of it in any case.

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