Saturday, September 11, 2010

Album Review: Low – I Could Live In Hope

Low’s debut album was released in 1994, at a time when heavy guitar grunge ruled the land. Low took an entirely different tack, playing very slow and quiet songs, setting the template for their subsequent albums.

Even now, this album sounds fresh. The whole package is very minimalist, both with the music and the song titles. Each song has a one-word title: Words, Fear, Cut etc. Opening track Words starts with a sparse bassline and low-tuned echoing electric guitar, underpinned by Alan Sparhawk and Mimi Parker’s otherworldly harmonies. It sounds bold and arresting, and it becomes a groove that the band settles into.

The harmonies in particular are very good, especially on tracks like Fear and Sea. They sound a bit like Simon and Garfunkel with the Cure on backing vocals. Actually that only tells part of the story. If that was it they would merely be derivative but in fact they sound like noone else sounded before. Every note is distinct, even down to Sparhawk’s fingers sliding over the fretboard. Yet the songs sound cohesive, almost like hymns with vocals are shared fairly evenly between Sparhawk and Parker. On Lullaby (Cure influence again?) the band stretch out, the track building from a sparse almost lifeless beginning to a full band performance in the middle, before ebbing away again as the song fades.

However, isolating individual tracks is futile here. The album works best as a complete unit, as each track flows into the next, making for a redemptive and soothing listen for those long, dark nights.

Note: no copies of Disintegration or Carnage Visors were harmed in the making of this album!