I came late to appreciating Low, but they have since become one of my favorite bands. I was vaguely aware that trainspotting music critics had christened a new genre to categorize bands like Low: slowcore, the distinguishing characteristics of which being playing very quietly and slowly (an overgeneralization, it turns out, but it never hurts to be famous for something unique). “Venus,” a free promotional MP3 from A Lifetime of Temporary Relief given away on Amazon.com, lived in rotation on my iPod for some time, and finally convinced me to buy the 2005 album The Great Destroyer. I first saw them live in Brooklyn’s McCarren Park Pool in 2006, supporting Iron & Wine (whom I like well enough, but if you ask me it should have been the other way around). Even in direct sunlight, their music is beautiful and engrossingly enigmatic.
Director Sebastian Schrade’s documentary Low in Europe was filmed on their 2002-2003 tour of Europe, before they wrote and recorded my two favorite albums of theirs: The Great Destroyer and Drums and Guns. It’s part concert film and part documentary, but not enough of each. There are no complete musical performances included, and although the principals are all intelligent and interesting, the fact is the interviews are sometimes a little less than gripping.
The band first expresses their ambivalence about operating within the commercial music industry. They address their reputation for slow tempos and low volume with good humor; in their early days, they played really slow, in the fuck-you avant-garde spirit but not the loud ‘n’ sloppy letter of punk, to antagonize and challenge the audience. Their contrary nature extends to their personal lives: principal members Alan Sparhawk and Mimi Parker, practicing Mormons and a longtime married couple, tour with their children and view it as a simplified and focused way of life. This came as something of a surprise to me, who feels perhaps he had a heretofore undiscovered prejudice that Mormons couldn’t be rock stars.
The heavily-documented Low can be further investigated on the three documentary shorts included with the A Lifetime of Temporary Relief boxed set, and on the forthcoming You May Need a Murderer, a new doc coming out June 3.