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.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

A Hundred Years Behind My Eyes: Low in Eindhoven


I said I was coming back, and the first part of that is this long-overdue effort on my part. A little while back Low put out a free digital EP called Live at Eindhoven, which is excellent, but very short. That EP is just a small fragment of the band's performance at the Heartland Festival, recorded at the Catharinakerk Eindhoven, the Netherlands, January 22, 2009. Well, thanks to the good offices of some fellow fans, I had already been sitting on the MP3s of the band's complete show from that festival. For my own personal edification I took the two massive files I had, split them into individual songs, tagged them properly, popped some images of the organ at Eindhoven that I altered slightly to look a little different into the album art, and put them on my iPod (the first 'disc' is above, the second at the bottom of this post).

I saw the Retribution Gospel Choir live in Toronto around this time, and I had the chance to ask Alan really quickly whether he'd mind if I put this up for people; obviously if he did or if anyone from the band does and contacts me I will pull the links down immediately (they will also expire at some point, although I do check comments here). He indicated that he didn't really care, and seeing as how only four tracks from this show have been released (and those for free; you did have to sign up for the mailing list, but if you're reading this blog you should be on it already), I feel fine about sharing this wonderful show. In Eindhoven the band were augmented with other players and a choir, and given a full two hours and twenty minutes to play. The result is a fantastic set (covering everything from Things We Lost in the Fire to a then-unreleased song that turned up on C'mon) from a band at (I would argue) the height of their powers. At least some of these renditions are the best ones I've heard of that particular song, and all are at least as good as the recorded versions. The volume is a little low on these recordings, but the sound quality is fantastic, and any fan of the band should grab this immediate. I hope people enjoy it.

[The old links are dead, so here's a link to the whole thing. Please let me know if you have any problems with it!]

Disc One
01. (That's How You Sing) Amazing Grace (8:44)
02. Sunflower (5:18)
03. In Metal (4:23)
04. Candy Girl (5:54)
05. Dinosaur Act (4:53)
06. Kind of Girl (3:27)
07. Point of Disgust (4:32)
08. Whitetail (6:03)
09. Canada (4:28)
10. Belarus (4:12)
11. Breaker (3:23)
12. Silver Rider (5:48)
13. Shots & Ladders (10:18)

Total: 71:15

Disc Two
01. July (5:43)
02. Pretty People/Take Your Time (9:24)
03. Monkey (4:40)
04. Everybody's Song (4:17)
05. (Introductions) (1:45)
06. The Lamb (6:00)
07. Violent Past (3:14)
08. Laser Beam (3:15)
09. In Silence (3:43)
10. Always Fade (3:52)
11. Dragonfly (4:58)
12. Murderer (3:21)
13. (Encore Break) (2:17)
14. $20 (4:28) [I forgot to change the file before I uploaded it, so this is tagged as "My Love (Is For Free)," sorry!]
15. Sandinista (3:04)
16. When I Go Deaf (7:40)

Total: 71:30

Friday, March 4, 2011

C'mon

Wow, so the last actual song review I wrote for here was in April 2009, huh? This is one of the unintended side effects of having a job. But it's not like I'm any less obsessed with Low, and I'll admit, this thread (on a message board I refuse to join because I don't have the time to keep up at all) makes me kind of eager to get back to TMW,TMW. I've got the new Low album, and I've got that festival show I mention below all properly segmented and ready to go; I even sort-of asked Alan about it when I saw the Retribution Gospel Choir play at the Drake Underground in Toronto (awesome, by the way, and I think I'm going to try and do the two RGC albums here at some point) and he gave his sort-of blessings, so that'll go up at some point.

Basically, in the near future (let's say this month) I want to get back in the saddle of finishing this thing off, so that the next time TMW,TMW sits dormant, it's because we're waiting for another album...

And if you see this because you have been checking in, or watching via RSS feed: Thank you for your patience. I'll try to make it worthwhile.