Low / Christmas

 

Christmas

Low is an American indie rock group from Duluth, Minnesota, formed in 1993. As of 2010, the group is composed of founding members Alan Sparhawk (guitar and vocals) and Mimi Parker (drums and vocals), joined by Steve Garrington (bass guitar). Previous bassists for the band include John Nichols from 1993 to 1994; Zak Sally from 1994 to 2005 and Matt Livingston from 2005 to 2008.

The music of Low is characterized by slow tempos and minimalist arrangements. Early descriptions sometimes referred to it as a rock subgenre called “slowcore” often compared to the band Bedhead, who played this style during the 1980s and early 1990s. However, Low’s members ultimately disapproved of the term.

Parker and Sparhawk’s striking vocal harmonies represent perhaps the group’s most distinctive element; critic Denise Sullivan writes that their shared vocals are “as chilling as anything Gram and Emmylou ever conspired on—though that’s not to say it’s country-tinged, just straight from the heart.

Christmas is an EP by the indie rock band Low. It was released in 1999 on Kranky. A Christmas album, it was released as a gift to fans. In 2013, the A.V. Club‘s Josh Modell described it as “the religious album even heathens can love”

The Analysis—-

Just Like Christmas—-If you are familiar with Lows’ music, you notice a bit of a difference at the onset of this opening track. The music that is produced is jaunty and a bit joyous…as it probably should be. the one common bond you will hear are the beautiful voices and wonderful harmonies. Mimi has a voice that is perfect for Christmas music…perfectly angelical and delivered with true emotion. This is a beautiful and perfectly delivered track.

 

Long Way Around The Sea—-From the opening notes, this track is much more familiar in sound and wraps around me like a warm fuzzy blanket. The two voices come together and produce a magical winter landscape that almost brings tears to your eyes as the describe the true meanings of this maniacal time of year. This is brilliant…beautiful in construction and delivery. Just remarkable.

Little Drummer Boy—-Perhaps the most stark and beautiful version of this song I have ever heard…..even from bona fide Church choirs. The melancholy feel of the song fits perfectly with the story. The remarkable and beautiful blend of voices will produce goosebumps…you will listen to this masterpiece of a song long after the season has left you…it is that exquisite and special. The tempo is maddeningly slow…allowing you to savor every single nuance of the words and story. This is a true masterpiece.

If You Were Born Today—-Staying true to the recipe that makes this band a indie phenomenon, the plodding slowness of the music makes it even more important. The minimalist instrumentation almost insists that you truly listen to every single word and digest it as the song moves foreword. This is remarkably beautiful…sad and a reminder of the reason people celebrate this time of year. This is just an incredibly powerful song….Low can do no wrong in my book.

Blue Christmas—-Taking a poignant song and adding the bands own personal spin, allows this classic Christmas song to become even more powerful and intense. Mimi delivers such an emotional vocal that you literally feel tears spring to your eyes uncontrollably. this is stark…naked and produces a feeling like no other version is capable of. This is heart wrenching and full of melancholy. Very powerful.

 

Silent Night—-With an incredible guitar based intro to the song, the two voices come together in a remarkably melody that could fit into any Christmas Eve service across the world. The feeling of the song is genuine and intense…the true structure of the original firmly intact but elevated by the beauty of the voices telling this story.

Taking Down The Tree—-A bit more of a livelier track, the banjo sound is really nice. Mimi adds her subtle percussion and Alan comes through with that sometimes really high vocal he sings in. The song has a sad element…as things are wrapped up for the season and we fall back into the mundane elements of winter as we aim for spring. This can produce a large array of feelings depending where you are at this point in the ‘season’….but that is the joy of this band.

One Special Gift—-Another track to wrap up this masterpiece of a release, that speaks of the let-down of the end of the season and the results of all the mayhem and the trials of the crazy thing we call Christmas. This is a poignant track…reminding me of the O’Henry tale about the combs. This is stark…naked and beautiful. A masterpiece.

*****out of 5

 

Coastal / Halfway To You

Halfway To You

Coastal formed in 1999 as a hybrid of several musicians who had played for years in different bands in the Provo, Utah area. Singer and guitarist Jason Gough had been involved in shoegaze style bands for several years (Lumiere, The Mantarays, Azure) and it was through such bands that he met up with bassist Josh Callaway (Just Lucy). A middle ground was sought between Jason’s shoegaze and Josh’s slocore leanings as the duo started to write songs together.

As their music developed, Gough and Callaway enlisted Jim Harker (Stigma, The Melody Tree) to take on drum duties and occasionally play second guitar. Interestingly, Gough and Harker both originally hailed from Southern Alberta, Canada and lived 20 minutes from each other, but never met until Coastal was formed. With the main structure in place and a sound of their own emerging, the trio felt the music needed an additional presence. Sarah Holyoak then joined to play organ and sing backing vocals to complete Coastal’s line-up. Within a year Holyoak left the group and Luisa Gough (Jason’s wife) took over on keyboards and backing vocals, to comprise the quartet that is Coastal today.

The Analysis—-

Until You Sleep—-Brilliant and beautiful, if you are familiar with the band Low, this will reverberate with you immediately. The sound…so stark and naked….slow and at times tedious, combined with the beauty of the sedate vocals take you on a trip in your own brain with every song. Beauty is the only way to describe the magnificence of this band. It makes you ponder every nuance of your life with a naked eye and vow to be a better person. Who knew minimal could be so damn intense.

Eternal—-A stark guitar with just a slight bit of fuzz in the playback allows a spoken word intro to the track….words of poetic beauty. When the voices of the Gough’s combine together you are magically transported to a place of colorful beauty and thoughtful pondering. The harmonies are heartbreaking in their beauty. Each song a wonderful landscape of sound and tranquility combined with words to make you take pause and consider each syllable. Underneath of it all is a keyboard warble that adds to the solace and starkness…..wow!

Halfway To You—-.Slow and plodding with a layered sound of vocals and instruments that never break through the frozen ice that sits on your head as you listen. The combination of voices are just immaculate….a perfect blend of stripped down naturalness….no effects or manipulations. You hear and appreciate every beautiful word and every sorrowful nuance. Thinking man’s music.

Leaves—-Intense piano/keyboard strokes bring this composition to life with a stark and wintry feel. The vocal enters and the words are so immaculately beautiful you feel sad for leaves. The phrasing on this track is incredible…the way certain words are said and delivered make you ache with sorrow and stare into space with amazement that such wonderful music is possible. Just incredible.

Night Sky—-A quiet cymbal and low hum from the keyboard introduce this track…all delivered at a maddeningly slow pace as the guitar enters with a slight electricity.The pace of everything is so wrung out and slow…you catch every little noise and sound going on in the song. This is stark…slow…plodding….depressing and incredible wrought with beauty.

We Won’t Last Another Year—-Really sounding like Low at the onset of this song…you notice the hum that runs through the track and then the voices enter together…painting a picture that has built in emotions of the canvas. The sadness that pervades the whole thing makes you sink into a slight depression as the song progresses. It is only the magical harmonies and toy like piano sounds that allow you to take pause and hang your head with appreciation of such stark and unabashed beauty.

Drift—-The introduction to the song has a feel of winter and drifts in itself. The voices come together to paint a bleak, beautiful winter picture that somehow allows sunshine around the edges. The plodding and incredibly slow delivery begs that you pay attention to every single word that is delivered on a once blank canvas that slowly comes to life with a vivid wonderful picture by the end of the song.

London In February—-Naked and slow to come to life, the guitar enters and adds to the bleak sound and then welcomes a soft and cymbal heavy drum. The melodic beauty of the song is slow to form but with each passing bar…it all comes together in a wonderful landscape of articulate musicianship and crafted sounds…..just wonderfully, beautifully intense.

So Close—-Clocking in at a little over 8 minutes, this is perhaps one of the brightest songs on this release…although the lyrical content is not joyful or happy. The music has a more moderate tempo….but the underlying trademark sound of the band magically remains intact. This is an exquisite release….if you are not familiar with this band…please check them out.

***** out of 5