Low: You May Need a Murderer

Low You May Need a Murderer


It may seem overkill for the so-called slow­core band Low to be the sub­ject of anoth­er doc­u­men­tary fea­ture film only a mere four years after Low in Europe, but it must be because they’re just so inter­est­ing. Film­mak­er David Kleijwegt’s You May Need a Mur­der­er could just as well be titled Low in Amer­i­ca, as he speaks with found­ing mem­bers Alan Sparhawk and Mimi Park­er at home in Duluth, Min­neso­ta, and on tour across Amer­i­ca in sup­port of the Drums & Guns album. The key char­ac­ter­is­tics of that record are what most inform the film: Sparhawk’s mood post-ner­vous break­down, and Low’s most overt­ly expressed social and polit­i­cal com­men­tary yet. Low had also just adopt­ed a new bass play­er, Matt Liv­ingston, after Zak Sally’s long tenure, but he does not par­tic­i­pate (he’s only bare­ly glimpsed, even in live onstage footage).

You May Need a Mur­der­er is a much more sat­is­fy­ing film over­all than Low in Europe. Whether by their own desire to open up or by Kleijwegt’s per­sua­sive inter­view skills, Sparhawk and Park­er are notably more can­did and direct, espe­cial­ly on the top­ic of their faith. Which is exact­ly what one would sin­gle out as the most inter­est­ing thing about Low: Sparhawk and Park­er are a mar­ried Mor­mon cou­ple that that tithe a tenth of all their income to the church. I sup­pose Low might belong in that rare cat­e­go­ry of bands whose music is often char­ac­ter­ized by reli­gious beliefs, like the often overt­ly Chris­t­ian U2, but would nev­er be filed under “Inspi­ra­tional” in record stores. Unlike U2’s joy­ous hymns and opti­mistic calls to activism, Low’s inspi­ra­tions are con­sid­er­ably more dark and apoc­a­lyp­tic.

Low You May Need a Murderer

When Low gets polit­i­cal they do so with a vengeance. Sparhawk is in despair over America’s econ­o­my and pol­i­tics, and has long believed that the world may reach a cri­sis point in his life­time (he stops short of pre­dict­ing it will actu­al­ly “end”). Sparhawk’s gen­uine beliefs gives him the real author­i­ty to crit­i­cize George W. Bush’s claim to faith. The title song “You May Need a Mur­der­er” is sung from the point of view of one who goes before his god and asks to be used as a war­rior. It becomes clear that the speak­er is in effect star­ing into a mir­ror, bring­ing his own bag­gage to an imag­i­nary con­ver­sa­tion, and jus­ti­fy­ing his own dark impuls­es. Sparhawk is, need­less to say, talk­ing about self-pro­claimed men of faith like Bush and Tony Blair. The song is utter­ly ter­ri­fy­ing, and rais­es the hairs on the back of my neck every time. It may be the ulti­mate state­ment on the top­ic, and does not com­pare favor­ably to the sim­i­lar­ly-themed song by Bright Eyes, “When the Pres­i­dent Talks to God.”

The most sur­pris­ing per­son­al top­ic to come up is Sparhawk’s appar­ent ner­vous break­down in 2005. We see Sparhawk appear­ing very ner­vous back­stage before a show, but oth­er­wise func­tion­al. But he describes him­self as hav­ing been “clin­i­cal­ly delu­sion­al” at the point of his break­down, and while hav­ing nom­i­nal­ly recov­ered, he also cops to being a drug addict. To him, the biggest con­flict these two aspects of his life have is with his reli­gion.

Must Read: The Speed of Silence review

Must Read: Pop­Mat­ters review

Offi­cial Low site: www.chairkickers.com

Buy the DVD from Ama­zon and kick back a few pen­nies to The Dork Report.