In our blink-and-miss-it era of high-speed downloads, automobiles that accelerate like rockets, drive-thru windows and even express nail salons, slowness is something that has come to be associated with laziness, tedium, even idiocy. Taking time over something is folly, not luxury. Hesitate, you get left behind. Minnesota’s monumentally unhurried Low remind us that there is a pleasure in succumbing to the tug of time that no quick fix can provide.
Married Mormons Mimi Parker and Alan Sparhawk, along with bassist Zak Sally, have long resisted the call to rock, instead combining the spectral grace of Galaxie 500 with the reverential musicianship of Slint. Over the course of their last four albums, their Tortoise-like pace has been increasingly glazed with the languorous romance of Mimi and Alan’s intertwined voices, signalling an incremental shift away from solemnly experimental soundscapes towards an unmistakable and very warm humanism.
With ‘Things We Lost In The Fire’, they return to the idiosyncratic production of notorious noise-wrestler Steve Albini, which served them so well on their last opus, ‘Secret Name’, and move even further into a space where lullabies and folk songs distil themselves into tentative pop. That means less slow, less low but, like the movement of a clock, the change is almost imperceptible.
The usual Low ingredients are all in place: the wispy strings, measured phrasing, notes suspended indefinitely. In ‘Closer’ they ponder “…things we lost in the fire/How’d we ever get by?”, but Low need only the bare minimum, the sonic equivalent of a blanket and a Bunsen burner, to work their magic. The Morpheus drone of ‘Whitetail’ is all gasp and void, with words like “stay out all night” ringing out in the chill (more likely urging star-gazing than hedonism), and ‘Laser Beam’ is positively piercing in its simplicity.
When they discover power chords in ‘Dinosaur Act’, it is as surprising as it is welcome. Cushioned in the rest of the album’s unruffled calm, the moments when Low are very nearly loud aren’t as jarring as you might think. ‘Sunflower’, ‘Whore’ and ‘Like A Forest’ revel in raised voices and glistening melodies, and the poignant ‘In Metal’ features the tiny shrieks of Mimi and Alan’s baby daughter. There is life here,
wide-eyed and immeasurable. Low have always sought to make music that can both swell the heart like a gospel tune and capture the amplified absence of a funeral parlour. It’s difficult to imagine a more perfect expression of their vision than this.