With the release of its sixth full-length recording -- the second in a row overseen by Steve Albini -- Low has put itself on the map. The map of Duluth, Minnesota, that is, where the band started in 1993. Stasis, you see, is part of Low's shtick. Drummer Mimi Parker and guitarist Alan Sparhawk, the wife and husband who met in grade school, refuse to be prodded along by fashion, commerce, technological innovation -- or just about anything outside of their circumscribed pasture. On Things We Lost in the Fire, this resolve is best exemplified by the immovable tone forest "Whitetail," wherein a single, distorted guitar chord branches into cymbalic whispers while its roots are thudded into by a burrowing bass. Parker and Sparhawk's voices climb identical intervals, expelling "Closer, closer" in equal breaths as the target is sighted, its coordinates logged. We acknowledge that a progression took place and a proximity was reached; yet as a clock's hour hand defies human perception, we can't claim that we actually saw, or heard, it happen.
Low's ascetic aesthetic stems from Parker and Sparhawk's Mormonism. (Low's third member, Zak Sally, is just a bass player and therefore not entitled to a full-fledged denomination.) It's a small step from forbidding the use of alcohol, caffeine and tobacco to prohibiting guitar solos, screaming and intemperate overdubbing. Low insulates its musical habitat from the daily downpour of choices that douse prodigal American musicians and leave them spouting "whatever" as their modus operandi. Parker, the plainclothes queen of sing-song, shaves the fuzzy beast of popular music down to its bad, bare self with tonsorial expertise. This woman could sing her shopping list in the supermarket and you'd stand rapt, grasping your cart with your hands in a prayer-like shape as your ice cream melted and your milk soured. The tracks featuring Parker -- "Laser Beam" and "In Metal," a poignant plea to preserve her infant daughter in bronze like a pair of baby shoes -- use but a dusting of organic accompaniment. When her voice conjugates with her husband's, as on the irritating shitkicker "Sunflower" or the amplitudinous "Dinosaur Act," the resultant SparParkersaurus makes Steve & Edie, Sonny & Cher and Exene & John all sound like barren brother-and-sister acts.
Things We Lost in the Fire explores life's roots rather than its transitory fruits, yielding a music that pierces and cuts without showing its knife, caresses and embraces without ever showing its hands.
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