Jordan Dowling takes a retrospective look at the career and music of Low; through obscurity, The OC and their trademark drawn-out chord changes and melody.
There are many paths towards Low's catalogue; many fans have grown with the band, seeing through their extensive catalogue since the bands beginnings in 1993. Others have been directed to the band from links to bands such as Dirty Three** and Godspeed You! Black Emperor. Now an increasing number of their fanbase has been converted through the appearance of a track on the third season of The OC but whatever the introduction to the band, it's inevitable that, like me, the majority of Low fans don't just like them, they 'worship' them.
There may have been a small aftertaste of hyperbole in that statement, but consider the connotations of the word, and the relevance of it to Low themselves as well as the music they make. The band are fronted vocally by married couple Mimi and Alan Sparhawk, who often throw religous idioms into their songs (cases in point: 'Joan Of Arc' and 'Laser Beam' among others), and have taken inspiration from their Mormon beliefs. With the consistent high quality of their releases, even with the wealth of songs available (between 200-250), most of those who can connect with Low's music have heard at least 50% of their recorded materials, and one only has to glance at their message board or the documentary (not 'rockumentary') Closer Than That to show how devout some fans of the band are.
But why is this? Low aren't exactly the easiest band to get into, after all. Their recorded material (whilst being pop in temperament) is often marred by poor recording and the songs float at around 50bpm slower than a funeral march. However for those with the patience to let Low's ebbing tide wash over them, the rewards are great.
For Low can do more with a single chord change or alteration in vocal pitch than most post-rock bands can in a five minute crescendo - listen to 'Shame' from the band's second album Long Division for a perfect example. This may not be the best track to put on before a night out, but let it envelope you after said night out and you will struggle to stop the intoxication of the slow-build from the verse to the chorus overtaking the intoxication of any substances still filling your body.
So where do you start? It's hard to say. Above are some tracks that for me stand above the rest of their vast array of materials, but question two Low fans on their favourite track or even favourite five tracks and it's unlikely that the same titles will be mentioned. For those wishing to jump right in and experience the band at their uncompromising, melancholic best there's no better start than their debut LP; 1994's I Could Live In Hope, a masterpiece in minimalist, sorrowful pop. Those looking to take an easier route into the band's dark realm would be advised to purchase their latest album The Great Destroyer which, while maintaining the high quality of past releases, is infinitely more accessible.
The future looks rocky for Low, but it's something they are used to. Formed in the wastelands of Duluth, Minnesota the band have never lived in hope of commercial success, and even with the mainstream-ready leanings of the previous albums it's unlikely that Low will ever escape the tag of 'cult favourites', a fact that should warrant a deep inspection of our music industry. Last year long-term bassist Zak Sally left the band, and was hastily replaced by sometimes collaborator Matt Livingston. Alan Sparhawk has also recently admitted, after cancelling tour dates last May and June, to suffering from mental problems that have ranged from, in his words; "everything from post-traumatic stress disorder, ADHD, bipolar whatever, suicidal depression/anxiety ('here’s some pills, call me if you are still alive next week - oh, wait, sorry, your small business insurance plan doesn't cover all this...'), to paranoia, laziness, OCD, and good old-fashioned two-faced asshole-ness."
So don't let Low pass you by; they could be with us for another ten years, or another ten days. Neither would come as a surprise. It's inevitable that true geniuses aren't picked up on until after termination, but Low deserve to be the exception to the rule. Trust in hope, trust in Low.
I Could Live In Hope LP Quigley Records
Things We Lost In The Fire LP Tugboat Records
Great Destroyer LP Rough Trade Records