PRINT April 1997



For a while there, LOW was pretty much the best band that you’d never heard of working in America. Like a secret that the indie-rock world was keeping, this spare and lovely thing hid quietly amongst a million screaming guitars. Some people heard them, maybe, on that Joy Division tribute album Means To An End, where they did this version of “Transmission,” at once lugubrious and beautiful, slowed down well beyond even Ian Curtis’ depressive tempo. Or maybe people bought Long Division or I Could Live in Hope. But apparently none of them worked for Rolling Stone or MTV. So you didn’t hear much about Low. Even though you should have. Now they’ve put out a new album, as quietly as the last one, called The Curtain Hits the Cast, and it’s just as good as their other albums. Which is to say: it’s gorgeous.

There are three people in Low: husband and wife Mimi Parker, who sings and does percussion, and Alan Sparhawk, who also sings, and plays guitar and keyboards, with Zak Sally on keyboards and bass. They all live in the Midwest—a place where forest thickets alternate with straight-plowed fields, flat and empty. The landscape has its effect: consequently, the music they make is the sonic equivalent of all that lonely space. Played slow, slower, slowest, it’s totally spare, all long bass and guitar notes trailing off into the distance. There’s a soft, skirling hum of feedback or there’s not. A snare drum, a cymbal, is brushstroked in the hollows, marking time, softly. Hush-a-bye vocals weave in and out of fuzzed and loping strings, or are set against near silence. Occasionally, keyboards wash over the whole thing, rising and receding, tidal.

On the song called “Mom Says,” Alan sings things that his mother said to him as a child, while Mimi sings along. They’re plain statements—sad and sometimes sort of funny, even. Things like: “the car won’t make it to the lake.” And: “we ruined your body.” This last gets right to the heart of Low’s music: a belief that simplicity, a sense of quiet, gets closest to the truth.

Mark Van de Walle