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Music / Low

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Mimi Parker (left), Alan Sparhawk (right), the driving forces of the band.
Low were a Minnesotan Alternative Rock band formed in 1993, chiefly known for being largely the Trope Namer for the silly-titled subgenre Slowcore.

The band's concept began as a joke between guitarist Alan Sparhawk and bassist John Nichols of indie band Zen Identity, wondering what would happen if they tried playing quieter music to the loud, Grunge-oriented alternative crowds of Duluth. Growing serious about trying, Sparhawk and Nichols left Zen Identity, and formed Low with the addition of Sparhawk's wife Mimi Parker on a drumkit consisting entirely of a cymbal and a floor tom.

While the bassist position underwent some changes, and the band later moved towards experimentation with electronic music, Low's music was largely centered around some easily identifiable traits:

  • Sparhawk and Parker's acclaimed vocals and harmonies.
  • Minimal instrumentation (especially compared to their Dream Pop antecedents like Galaxie 500)
  • Slow, dirgey tempos marked by very simple rhythms
  • Use of reverb for atmospheric purposes
  • General avoidance of excessive studio trickery (setting them apart from other Dream Pop bands)

After being diagnosed with ovarian cancer in 2020, Mimi passed away 5 November 2022. And eventually after that Sparhawk disbanded the group entirely by stating on Twitter that "Low is and was Mimi, It was amazing. I'm grateful."

Album discography (not counting EPs and singles):

  1. I Could Live in Hope (1994), the only album recorded with John Nichols, who left the band afterwards
  2. Long Division (1995), their first album with bassist Zak Sally
  3. The Curtain Hits the Cast (1996)
  4. Secret Name (1999)
  5. Things We Lost in the Fire (2001)
  6. Trust (2002)
  7. A Lifetime of Temporary Relief (2004) (compilation)note 
  8. The Great Destroyer (2005)
  9. Drums and Guns (2007), for this album Sally was replaced by Matt Livingston
  10. C'mon (2011), their first album with bassist Steve Garrington
  11. The Invisible Way (2013)
  12. Ones and Sixes (2015)
  13. Double Negative (2018), their final album with Garrington, who left in 2020. Sparhawk and Parker chose to carry on as a duo.
  14. HEY WHAT (2021), their final album.

Not to be confused with the seminal David Bowie album.

Tropes used by Low:

  • Cover Version: "You Are My Sunshine", "Transmission" by Joy Division, "Jack Smith" by the Supreme Dicks, "Down by the River" by Neil Young, "Heartbeat" by Wire, "I Started a Joke" by The Bee Gees, "Long Long Long" by The Beatles, "Lord, Can You Hear Me?" by Spacemen 3, "Back Home Again" by John Denver, "Open Arms" by Journey, "Surfer Girl" by The Beach Boys, "Blowin' in the Wind" by Bob Dylan, "...I Love" by Tom Hall, "Carnival Queen" by Jandek, "Fearless" by Pink Floyd, "Last Night I Dreamt That Somebody Loved Me" by The Smiths... and those are just the ones on their studio releases and A Lifetime of Temporary Relief. All of said songs are transformed to fit the band's signature style.
    • Robert Plant covered "Monkey" and "Silver Rider" on his 2010 Band of Joy solo record.
    • A 2013 standalone single was a cover of Rihanna's "Stay." Yes, that Rihanna.
  • Downer Ending: I Could Live in Hope, an already very sad album, ends with a cover of the song "You Are My Sunshine", which is about a man begging his only love to not leave him.
    • The band itself also had this, largely due to the untimely passing of Mimi Parker after losing the battle with Ovarian cancer.
  • Drone of Dread: They did a lot of this in their career.
  • Epic Rocking: "Lullaby", "Down", "Stay", "Laugh", "Do You Know How to Waltz?", "Born by the Wires", "Be There", some of the material on The Exit Papers, "(That's How You Sing) Amazing Grace", "The Lamb", "John Prine", "Shots and Ladders", "Pissing", "Hey."
    • The most extreme example the band ever did was actually live, at Rock The Garden 2013. Their immediately controversial set during the festival was made up of one song - "Do You Know How to Waltz?" - stretched out to 27 long, droning minutes, and ending with Alan's declaration "drone, not drones."
  • Fading into the Next Song:
    • "Don't Understand" hard-cuts into "Soon" on Secret Name
    • "Sunflower" into "Whitetail", "Dinosaur Act" into "Medicine Magazines" on Things We Lost in the Fire
    • "Lies" into "Landslide" on Ones and Sixes
  • Incredibly Long Note: "Standby". Actually, quite a few of their songs involve long-held notes.
  • Insistent Terminology: Alan Sparhawk hates the term "slowcore", claiming it originated as a joke with a friend who worked in a record store.
    "What's the cheesiest? Slow-core. I hate that word. The most appropriate is anything that uses the word minimal in it, but I don't think anybody's made one up for that."
  • Leave the Camera Running: "Born by the Wires" ends with several minutes of a single guitar chord being strummed repeatedly.
  • Mood Whiplash: "When I Go Deaf" starts off as a gentle ballad, and mid song suddenly changes into one of their harder rocking songs.
  • New Sound Album: No album of theirs sound the same as the previous one.
    • Long Division heightens up the dose of melancholia that was ever present in I Could Live in Hope.
    • The Curtain Hits the Cast continues the melancholia of their previous two albums but this time with influences from drone music and Post-Rock.
    • Secret Name and Things We Lost in the Fire add Folk Rock influences to their sound, while still retaining the dronier experimentalism of their previous albums.
    • Trust on the other hand, is literally all of their previous five records combined, and the results are terrifying as it takes influences from genres like industrial (akin to the works of Coil and Einstürzende Neubauten) and dark ambient.
    • The Great Destroyer is basically Low... WITH DISTORTION! And for the majority of the time, employs less influence from the Post-Rock and Folk Rock they've been known for, rather opting for a sound akin to '90s Alternative Rock.
    • Drums and Guns is the prototype for what the band would go on to experiment 8 years later with Ones and Sixes.
    • C'mon is the folkier sound of Secret Name and Things We Lost in the Fire all over again, but mostly ditches the dronier sounds of those records.
    • The Invisible Way is the polar opposite of The Great Destroyer. They entirely ditch electric instrumentation for most part in favor of a sound more influenced by indie folk.
    • Ones and Sixes started leaning on electronics, whereas Double Negative adopts a much more bleak, harsher electronic sound, while still being recognizably Low.
    • HEY WHAT continues the electronic sound of Double Negative but mostly relinquishes the bleakness of that record in favor of a more heavenly ambient pop sound.
  • Step Up to the Microphone: Zak Sally has a brief cameo on "I Love" from A Lifetime Of Temporary Relief, singing a few lines Mimi felt uncomfortable singing.
  • Three Chords and the Truth: A variation. Low's compositions are often simple, minimal and slow, with bare-bones production to match, and a major emphasis on space. To simplify it even more, Mimi Parker was fond of using a drum kit consisting of only floor toms and cymbals. This vibe lessened a bit over time, especially once the band got into electronic instrumentation.
  • Vocal Tag Team: Alan and Mimi just loved harmonizing.