March 17 — “Whore” by Low

Low

If you only listen to one song today, make it “Whore” by Low (2001, from the album Things We Lost in The Fire).
Low is a mellow indie rock band from Duluth, Minnesota who formed in 1993 and have released nine proper albums. Their core is the husband and wife team of Alan Sparhawk (guitar, vocals) and Mimi Parker (drums, vocals). They have had a revolving door for bassists, and Steve Garrington is their current one.

Although Low are the pioneers of the genre, they don’t like being labeled as a “slow-core” band. Some would even say that they invented the genre. Although they don’t mind this one as much, they’d rather not be referred to as “that Mormon band” Sparhawk was born into the church of LDS, and Parker is a convert. They’re not on stage to proselytize. They go to Kenya for that. There may be some religious undertones in some of their songs, including today’s song, but it’s just that. Undertone. Aside from the Christmas EP (1999), which is sort of a novelty, they haven’t done anything overtly Christian.

Sparhawk and Parker, who are in their early 40s, have known each other since they were in the fourth grade, and they were high school sweethearts. They were married before Parker joined Low, and it was sort of serendipitous how it came to be that Parker joined the band and developed her extraordinarily unorthodox technique.

Sparhawk was working at an arena in Duluth. One day, in the basement, he found a bunch of abandoned musical equipment, and he ended up bringing a snare drum and cymbal home with him. He suggested that Parker join the band he was in, playing the drums. She had played snare in their high school marching band, but had never played on a kit. It didn’t matter, because she ended up adopting a unique form. She plays standing up, with no bass drum. Just a snare, floor tom, a crash cymbal and a ride cymbal. She usually plays with brushes. This method, while crazily unorthodox, fits them perfectly.

Apart from their slow, mellow style, Low is known for their vocal harmonies, which some have put on par with Gram Parsons and Emmylou Harris. Some of those same people will say that Gram and Emmylou were the best vocal duo ever. Personally, I’ll take George Jones and Tammy Wynette any day of the week. Sparhawk and Parker have really good harmonies, but I wouldn’t put them on that plane.

I love the slow burn of this song, and almost every Low song. After this album, they started to get a bit noisier, but they’ve always kept their quiet, slow style. While I like the newest record well enough to have rated it #5 on my 22 favorite non-Canadian albums of 2011, it’s gone in a “bigger” direction.

I change my “favorite Low record” pretty frequently. This time a year ago, I would have said Drums and Guns (2007), then I changed it to C’Mon when it came out. I come back to Trust (2002) a lot, but I’d say that right now, my favorite is Things We Lost in the Fire (2001). When I started this post, it was going to be about another song from the album, but I finally decided on “Whore”.

“Whore” by Low

As I said, I love the slow burn. It sneaks up on you as the first two and a half minutes chug along. Suddenly at 2:23, the guitars get all fuzzy and louder, and it’s almost like a rock song. Especially because of the guitar sound, it’s almost like Built to Spill. Just for a little over a minute, though. That guitar bit cuts out at 3:05 for the vocal chorus. Then at 3:40, the electric guitar cuts out all together, and you get Mimi Parker’s vocal.

The lyrics, which probably have some religious undertone:

You’ll get your reward

What is this whore you’re living for?
Is it so wrong to think there’s more?
There’s always one worth waiting for.
What is the whore you’re living for?

I’m sure it’s about worshipping false gods. Even though it’s a little preachy when you read them, I don’t feel like I’m being preached at when I listen to their songs.

As I do with all Low records, I’ll recommend listening to this on headphones. Good ones, though. Not those cruddy ones that came for free with your phone or mp3 device. They’re doing some cool things in the stereo field that you might not be able to appreciate fully without the headphone experience.

Buy Things We Lost in the Fire from the Kranky Records website here. They’re on Sub Pop now, but they didn’t take the back catalog with them.

About dlee

North Carolina born and bred. I'm a restaurant guy who spends free time listening to music, watching hockey and playing Scrabble. I have a bachelor's degree in political science and I will most likely never put it to use. View all posts by dlee

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