Thursday, September 17, 2015

Low: No Comprende

Seattle-based Low has diminished the breakneck pace of the rock'n'roll dream. Even while their music is sped up to twice the tempo, vocals fail to ring like cheery chipmunks (one way to test for slowcore). Two full albums at double-speed could fit on the same vinyl LP without forcing analogue sound or stressing plastic microgrooves. Their latest A-side, No Comprende, is like that.

Bands flare up like flash fires to drift into obscurity like ashes, but Low has maintained a consistent moderate pace for two decades. So pushing harder and faster might throw off the chemical balance, or shift creativity out of place, adversely affecting the band's indie rock longevity. In other words, faster ≠ better.

Other titles through Sub Pop are The Invisible Way, Drums and Guns, and C’mon. Their latest single No Comprende is a perfect example of how a well-crafted slowcore single should sound. Notice how the matchstick refuses to quit.

Oh So Slowcore

In 1998, bandleader Alan Sparhawk told QRD Magazine the chintziest label given to Low was slowcore:
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.1
Minimal indie rock fits, but so does the indie rock subgenre slowcore as a type of anti-hardcore (or anti-genre). While minimal music actually relates general aesthetics, styles and techniques which frame the subgenre. Classification then details the movement as a particular subdivision of indie rock. Listeners use genres to find music—like a card catalog. Sparhawk may scorn the label, but his original intention was slow, sonically stripped indie music:

Of the bands grouped into sadcore and slowcore classifications by critics in the early '90s, none were slower—or perhaps sadder (though Red House Painters might win that contest)—than Low. The band's roots lay in a live prank pulled off by guitarist/founder/singer Alan Sparhawk's pre-Low band Zen Identity, in which the band performed a set of excruciatingly slow, sonically stripped, low-volume songs to a grunge/alt-rock-hungry audience. Reaction notwithstanding, Sparhawk liked the musical result and formed Low to carry out this vision. His wife, Mimi Parker, took a brush-and-stick approach to a drum kit consisting of a floor tom and a single cymbal. Bassist John Nichols rounded out the lineup...2

Slow tempo inspired his vision, and with that characteristic slowness came the music press's appropriated subgenre label—searing like a branding iron. Low shoots slow-mo spitballs in the same classroom with Galaxie 500, Codeine, American Music Club, Red House Painters, Seam, Idaho, Karate and Nina Nastasia. For example—thanks to the subsonic association—Codeine fans are made aware of other protracted bands, including Low. So the inherently ambiguous genre label is two-edged. Helping potential fan$ taste test sonic categories first at YouTube, MySpace and SoundCloud. While the same label might also stereotype a band, failing to accurately represent the particulars of their sound. Right about when that shifty little slowcore label receives contempt from both artist and fan.

  1. Low interview from QRD #14. QRD Magazine. October 1998. Web. Accessed: Sept. 16, 2015.
  2. Gimme Indie Rock. . Minneapolis, MN: Voyageur. Print. pp.177,178

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