and I can hear 'em


Friday, May 30, 2008

Turn

Ha, I am going to manage two posts in May! I think one of the reasons for my relatively slow posting rate these days is I'll think, a week after a post, "hmm, I should update TMW,TMW again." And then some part of my mind counts remembering I need to post as having checked that particular thing off of my to-do list... and then a few weeks later I go "oh crap, I never wrote that up, did I?" So apologies for that. We are still going, we will still be finishing off Low's discography, and the RSS feed is probably your feed.

Enough about that. I don't know about you guys, but I'm a pretty big fan of both Joy Division and Wire, and already was when I first picked up Things We Lost in the Fire on that fateful day long ago. I certainly was listening to Closer and 154 a lot when I picked up Long Division. But I was still surprised that Alan says that "Turn" is an example of "more wire and joy division influence." I guess listening to it now, I can hear it; until two minutes in, all you can hear is the freeze-frame stomp of Alan and Zak and Mimi's cymbals softly pounding away in 4/4 unison, Mimi occasionally hitting the kick for emphasis. It does sound a bit like Joy Division, or rather it feels a bit like Joy Division on record: stark, claustrophobic, etc. It also reminds me a bit of Wire, not in the "Ex Lion Tamer"/"Outdoor Miner" vein, but more the beginning of "Mercy" or "Heartbeat" or even a blunter take on something like "Used To." Twice the track blooms into something stranger, the track suddenly dialing up the intensity and noise even though nothing is happening other than Alan repeating "to turn me in" and his guitar playing switches to the a more standard early Low sound. It's a striking effect, and especially at the end of the song works fantastically well.

The lyrics are definitely more in the Joy Division school of portentous vagueness, although they outdo even Ian Curtis in those stakes; aside from some repeition, all we get is

I never thought you took me seriously
I never thought you'd be the one to turn me in

I thought you saw me on the roof
I didn't think you'd be the one to turn me in


So naturally, at first this song made me think of Alan's narrator talking on a phone on one side of a plexiglass barrier, prison guards standing by in case he tries anything. But Alan says it's a "pitiful relationship song. told kramer to make it cold." Cold it is, but relationship song? I guess songwriters often abstract outwards from the real messy details of life to get something more figurative, but listen to the guitar creep up to a louder register as Alan drones "to turn me innnnn," and tell me you don't think there's murder happening here.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Condescend

first attempt at strings, the pop tradition. the baby sounds are from one of the cello players' daughter. the timing was so perfect we had to leave it in.

They certainly do like baby sounds, eh? When I read the above in the old song backgrounds page, I didn't remember them at all, but sure enough if you listen (instead of hearing it in your head; as the Radio Lab show on earworms noted, what you hear in your mind is never the actual song...) at the end just as they wind down some tiny person wakes up, makes a kind of cough/gurgle/cry. It does seem kind of fitting, but not to this song specifically; just to songs ending, things needing to be attended to, and so on.

Hearing "Condescend" (and indeed, the rest of the EP) later than most of the albums, I'm not struck by the strings the way a Low fan of the time would have been; the song starts out with some close mic'ed acoustic guitar (almost two slow to be called a strum), and just as the brushes start on the drums (I'm not sure if there's any bass on the track), these cellos come in. They anticipate, shadow, and prolong the brief vocal melody that Mimi sings in the middle of the track. It's easily the loveliest and most conventional song on the EP (although, depending on your standards, I guess the snowbound original version of "Will the Night" rivals it on the former point).

It still sounds like a brief, slight acoustic interlude from a 'normal' band melted and stretched like taffy until it is neither brief or slight any more; the lyrics remain about the same length as in our figurative source, but are more painfully oblique than most songs this pretty would deign to include:

To a point
You will fail
So I'll condescend

Without doubt
You will fail
Then I'll condescend

At a point
I will fail
Still I condescend


That's not quite the whole thing (later Mimi will reiterate the first verse and cycle through all the permutations of "___ I'll condescend"), but it's the important bits. She sings it with a little less spirit than normal, dropping syllables in time with the downbeat and the decline of the cellos; for much of its length "Condescend" is instrumental and lovely, but when Mimi sings it gets a bit starker, and a whole lot more airless. It's a difficult trick to pull off (especially with such a paucity of lyrical content to hold on to), and one that might be of questionable value to some listeners, but I'm always happy to succumb to it.