Low, an intimate slowcore three-piece known for their ice-cold compositions, frosty harmonies and chilled tempos, have always struck me as a band for winter. But that aesthetic has been shifting over the nearly twenty years that Alan Sparhawk and Mimi Parker (and a slew of temporary bassists) have been making music together.
2011’s C’mon hinted at a gradual thaw, particularly with the lullabyish “Try To Sleep.” A follow-up, The Invisible Way, is due in March—and every indication is that their new producer, none other than Wilco’s Jeff Tweedy, will help them open up that newfound warmth a bit more. Word is Sparhawk holds back on guitar, while piano comes into the foreground.
“On My Own,” despite its country DNA, and no it’s not a Les Misérables cover, is every bit as stark as what we’ve come to expect from Low, changing gears dramatically to become a plangent march of doom. “Plastic Cup,” meanwhile, only gets prettier as it goes. But these are only The Invisible Way’s bookends—we’ll have to hold on for all the good stuff in between.
Christmas songs are the epitome of pop culture tradition. Some people don’t believe it’s time to get in the spirit of the holiday until they hear Wham’s “Last Christmas” piping out of a J. Crew speaker. And sprouting up within the tradition of “merry” Christmas songs is a tradition of sad-as-Hell holiday songs, which range here from 1930’s murder ballads to Low’s “Taking Down the Christmas Tree.” All prove that Charlie Brown isn’t the only one thinking “there must be something wrong with me… Christmas has come, but I’m not happy.”
Private Charles Bowen & The Gentlemen From Tigerland – “Christmas in Vietnam” (1967)
Charley Jordan and Mary Harris – No Christmas Blues (1935)
Kitty Wells – “Christmas Ain’t Like Christmas Anymore” (1962)
Low – “Taking Down The Christmas Tree” (1999)
Vince Guaraldi – “Christmas Time Is Here” (1965)
The Emotions – “What Do The Lonely Do At Christmas” (1973)
The Carolina Buddies – “The Murder Of The Lawson Family” (1930)
Merle Haggard – “If We Make It Through December” (1973)
Elvis Presley – “Blue Christmas” (1957)
The Orioles – “It’s Gonna Be (A Lonely Christmas)” (1948)
Joni Mitchell – “River” (1971)
Judy Garland – “Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas” (1944)
Listeners are cautioned not to consume any other form of Joy Division homage, lest their primary auditory cortex commence massive hemorrhaging.
First up you’ve got Bedhead’s shambolic cover of “Disorder.” It’s the shy ’90s indie take on the more aggressive and industrial original. Plaintive, melancholy—like a slow-wavering flame—but building to that familiar denouement.
The only person I’ll tolerate covering “Love Will Tear Us Apart Again”—and lord, how many bands have tried—is Richard Bruckner, who does something something shiny and twangy with it that I’m still trying to wrap my ears around.
Finally, there’s Low’s ultra-droney, beautifully harmonic version of “Transmission,” from an EP of the same name, which stands with the spookiest stuff they’ve done.
If there are any acceptable Joy Division covers besides these, do let me know, but I believe that’s the lot.