Low 30 seconds and they’ll put you to sleep, but give them
3 minutes and they’ll blow your mind. Like a summer afternoon
thunderstorm, Low’s songs build fearfully slowly, collecting
energy, before they either peter out without a drop or explode into
a drenching cascade. The trio, comprised of the husband and wife
team of vocalist/guitarist Alan Sparhawk and vocalist/drummer Mimi
Parker, along with bassist Zak Sally, have made a career out of
not playing their instruments. Most, and often the best, Low songs
are studies in minimalism — the vacancies left between a strummed
guitar chord and a haunting vibrato.
But thankfully, Low always rewards your patience, and Trust, their
sixth LP, is no exception. Steve Albini’s strictly no-frills
production on 2001’s brilliant Things We Lost in the Fire
has been traded in favor of a fuller, more atmospheric sound. Mixed
by Tchad Blake (Pearl Jam, Latin Playboys), Trust bristles with
twinkling piano, multi-tracked harmonies, backwards guitar, banjos,
found noises and the near constant hum of reverb. Sparhawk’s
guitar is as rich as ever, and Parker’s hypnotically ominous
percussion sounds like the coming of the apocalypse. Whereas most
of last year’s album felt like it was recorded in a bedroom,
Trust could have been made in a cathedral with the amps booming
from the alter and the mics hanging from the rafters.
Not surprisingly, then, Low’s new album is full of religious
imagery. While the last album dealt with the minutia of human relationships,
tracks like the opener “(That’s How You Sing) Amazing
Grace” asks “Oh, can you hear that sweet, sweet sound?/
Yeah, I was lost, but now am found/ Sometimes there’s nothing
left to say/ That’s how you sing Amazing Grace.” Not
since 1999’s Christmas album, has Low been that explicit about
their Mormon heritage.
Though “I Am the Lamb” is about as frank a discussion
of Christ’s crucifixion as you’ll get in a rock song,
Low are never preachy. Whether they’re dealing with spirituality
(“Little Argument With Myself”), rage (“John Prine”),
or loss (“In the Drugs”), their songs are always primarily
personal statements. But even if you aren’t paying attention
to what they’re saying, Sparhawk’s and Parker’s
exquisitely fragile harmonies are escapist enough in their own right.
And not one to rest on their trademark sound, Low proves with the
dense “Canada” and the festive “Snowstorm”
that marriage is no obstacle to rocking hard.
With nearly a decade of making music under their belt, this Duluth,
Minn., trio still manages to be accessible without sacrificing an
iota of their integrity. Low is minimalism without pretense, originality
without artifice, and intensity without equal. Indie rock doesn’t
get much better than this.
They Raging. Quiet Army.
it what you will — derivative post-punk, neo-emo, cacophonous
hard rock — but the debut CD by The Starter Foundation’s
Detachment Kit is a 40 minute experience of pure and glorious rock
Queens of the Stone Age
The 50 or so folks gathered at the Rye Coalition/Detachment Kit
show this July were expecting something intense. The Rye Coalition
has a reputation for putting on energetic and emotional shows, driving
hard with intense rock beats and adding their own take on traditional
rhythm and blues.
Most of the assembled indie-rock fans were probably unaware of the
Detachment Kit. Formed in 1998 in Chicago, the band just released
their first LP, and didn’t foretell the show to come in their
gracious and humble tone. Thanking the assembled fans for coming
to seem them when the legendary Guided by Voices were playing for
free nearby, the Detachment Kit at first seemed like humble performers.
But their true power came out once they began to play. Knocking
over amps and confronting the audience with screams, the group strove
to make their show as interactive as possible difficulties with
their equipment. Their first album does the same, as it displays
their raw rock sound, complete with screams and screeching guitars.
Detachment Kit’s style ranges from short, loud and fast numbers
to more melodic pieces, building-up from a simplistic guitar riff
to an intense emotional scream, challenging the listener to become
active in his experience. This variance in style reflects the band’s
eclectic influences, as they pay homage to everyone from Weezer
to Devo to the Dismemberment Plan in their creative choices. The
band’s ability to string together slow-building melodic pieces
is particularly unusual since many current indie bands, such as
the White Stripes and the Hives, are content to play radio friendly
two to three minute pieces, leaving the more stylistic pieces to
bands whose radio days are far off. This album deserves to be listened
to in its entirety, and the listener should try to dance and throw
himself around as much as possible to add to the experience. If
nothing else, the Detachment Kit may make cynical indie-rockers
raise their trucker hats in respect, or at least lower their black-rimmed
glasses in appreciative disbelief.
Songs for the Deaf
The Queens of the Stone Age really want you to listen to this cranked
up to 11 in a drag race through the desert high on carpet cleaner
fumes. The cool vintage car inside art and the revved engine sounds
at the beginning give you that much, but ultimately they only deliver
about two-thirds of the time. Dave Grohl on drums, complete with
a porn actor moustache, gives you the sense that this band is capable
of being a lot more sleazy than it actually is.
The weak link is really the vocals, a weird melding of Blue Oyster
Cult and Stone Temple Pilots that doesn’t kick enough to go
along with the fuzzy shred of the guitars. This band would probably
sound great live, but something is missing in the recorded version
(the loss of “aura” in favor of reproducibility as Walter
Benjamin would say).
The first track, “You Think I Ain’t Worth a Dollar,
but I Feel Like a Millionaire” is probably the best, leading
off with a great radio station ID parody — “KLON- Clone
radio. We play the songs that sound more like everyone else than
anyone else”— then kicking into 70’s guitar overdrive
and dueling harmony. The guitars are where most of this album’s
bite comes from, along with the witty radio parodies throughout—“KRDL-
Curdle Radio. We spoil music for everyone.” Other highlights
include “Song for the Dead” and “Gonna Leave You”
which incorporates a variety of instruments including keys, strings,
and synths, a nice addition to the heaviness of the whole thing.
Also cool is the nod to ‘60s surf/psychedelia on “Another
Love Song,” a contrast to the ‘70s fuzz of the rest
of the album. But there is something that keeps this from being
a great album; it could be the over-produced vocals or the unevenness
of the songs: formulaic but rocking at the beginning, then lagging
in the middle and more diverse but less rocking at the end. As the
current archetypal “stoner rock” band you expect a little
more Sabbath and a little less STP.