and I can hear 'em


Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Majesty/Magic



100th post! Of course, not all of them are songs, and in fact we're coming perilously close to the second anniversary of the last proper TMW,TMW review. In that time, Low have made another album, although we won't actually see it until mid-April. I've already preordered C'mon, which means I can listen to a streaming version, and if you're a fan of Low I can say confidently that you should too. I'll leave general comments for later (or elsewhere, assuming I get to review it for PopMatters), but it might be the warmest record they've ever made, and there are some stunning songs on there.

There is something I do when a band I love releases the album art and tracklisting for their next release. These days I can usually obtain the music pretty immediately, but whether it's minutes or months, I can't seem to stop indulging myself in some pretty serious judging during that gap between partial and complete knowledge. You see, if I like a song or album, the title almost always sounds right and fitting (and even cool) to me, and I can make allowances for even pretty bad album art (thankfully I think the front of C'mon looks just fine). But looking at that list of titles, nine times out of ten, I'll find at least a few that I think sound dumb. Sometimes more. And if the list is 'bad' enough (again, this is all in a total vacuum, without hearing any music), I think it does sometimes affect my reception of an album (I suspect this is a small part of why Elbow records always, ALWAYS underwhelm me at first).

Oh, I just got an email. I'm reviewing C'mon at PopMatters. So that answers that.

Anyway, C'mon is maybe the first Low album I've ever had this kind of reaction to. I quite liked the tracklistings of Drums and Guns, The Great Destroyer, and Trust, and before that I didn't know the band. But this new one... calling it C'mon? "Witches"? "$20" (before I realized that I already knew and loved it)? And most pressingly, "Majesty/Magic"?

Slash marks in track names, like parentheses, can be awesome if used correctly but are painful a lot of the time. And for some reason they always seem to me to be more suited to instrumental or abstract songs, like Eno's "Zawinul/Lava" or Excepter's "Greenhouse/Stretch." And even when it does work for more song-y songs it takes me a while to come around to it, like Japandroids' "Crazy/Forever" or Spoon's "The Guestlist/The Execution." It's the rare track like Primal Scream's "Shoot Speed/Kill Light" where I instantly like the name. (And I'm obviously not talking about tracks where the slash mark is separating two actual song names, that's different.)

"Majesty/Magic" was not in that latter camp. It's not as if I think I know what these songs are going to sound like when I see a tracklisting, it's just that some part of my brain rounds on the title and decides that it can't imagine any song I would like that you could call that. Thankfully (and typically), that part of my brain was wrong.

Like most of C'mon, "Majesty/Magic" is deceptively short, given its billowing, slow-building might. And however much Low might continue to change and grow, it's a slight relief to see that (as far as lyrical brevity goes) some things never change:

See how they twist 'round the room
Oh majesty, oh magic

How could they leave us so soon?
Oh majesty, oh magic

Oh majesty, oh magic
Oh majesty, oh magic
Oh majesty, oh magic
Oh majesty, oh magic


If you've been following Low (or even just this blog), it's not exactly hard to predict which part of the song boasts the "Pissing"-esque climax, but as the lyrics suggest, there isn't any anger to "Majesty/Magic." Instead there's mostly just a kind of restrained awe, coupled with a little muted sorrow. Alan and Mimi's slow, soaring duet on most of the lines here are a thing of beauty, and once we reach the last two minutes of the song and the guitar, bass, strings, even some quiet synethisizer burbling all pile on, it's a very gorgeous blur indeed. It'd be wrong to think that C'mon is any sort of retreat from the starkly experimental, kill-or-cure of Drums and Guns, but this is exactly the kind of song they wouldn't or couldn't make on that album; it's good to have them working in this stormy, ecstatic mode again.

I still would have preferred just "Majesty," though.

1 comment:

Ian said...

I really wish I'd seen Alan's track-by-track for C'mon before I wrote this. For "Majesty/Magic," he says:

We thought this would be a new Christmas song, but the lyrics went elsewhere. Children are with us for such a short time. I got to play Gerry Beckley’s Gretsch guitar on this one.

A Christmas song! I could have written a whole entry on that.