Review Summary: With eloquence that reflects the seasoned professionals they have become, Low create one of the most hauntingly beautiful records they have put out.
Hailing from Duluth, Minnesota, the same small city that gave the world Bob Dylan, married couple Alan Sparhawk (vocals and guitar) and Mimi Parker (vocals and drums), accompanied by Zak Sally (bass), are the 'slowcore' pioneers that is Low. On their sixth release, Things We Lost In The Fire, their spine chilling sound is at a definite peak, while staying true to the bands minimalist roots and featuring the beautiful duet of Sparhawk and Parker.
Low have made themselves known by their natural ability to create something out of nothing. Where many others would fail, they manage to create a subtle beauty out of just the bare minimum. Often, the most rewarding moments of the album come at the parts where the least is present, such as "Laser Beam", where Parkers solo vocals delicately hover above a soft guitar melody. In true minimalist fashion, not a single note is wasted. Every note is there for a specific reason and where there needs no accompaniment, there is none. Rather then overdo their sound with constant strings or drum backing, they prefer to let the songs build a powerful tension before releasing it in a subdued crescendo.
The lyrics are exemplified in "Like a Forest", with lines such as "I wasted my breath / On words soon forgotten / Left unattended / They're moving their feet / But nobody's dancing" sung over a melancholic violin and percussion accompaniment. Make no mistake, this album is dark. The solemnity of the album is what contributes to it's overall beauty however, as it makes you search for that glimmer of light in the darkness, that one hint of hope when everything seems bleak. Many of the songs possess a virgin-like innocence, naive in a way, yet beautiful all the same.
Stand-out tracks include "Sunflower" which opens the album with one of the best vocal duets on the album, with Parker and Sparhawk complimenting each other flawlessly over the constant snare beat. "Dinosaur Act" is the most up-tempo (but not really) song of the album and serves it's purpose well, creating one of the most hummable songs on the album with it's horn accompanied chorus, as Sparhawk and Parker sing in harmony. "Medicine Magazines" uses a distant piano and soft drumming to straight forwardly question the lifestyle of the entertainment industry, asking "How can it be that fun / When everyone around you / Dies so young"". "Whore" begins with Parkers lone falsetto before Sparhawk's lower voice joins in and the duo perform an exemplary vocal harmony. Sparhawk's distorted guitar makes itself known as he sings "What is the whore you're living for" / Is it so wrong to think there's more"". The album highlights come in the form of "Embrace", "Like a Forest" and "In Metal" however. "Embrace" starts with just the quivering vocals of Sparhawk, shortly followed by a lone violin. The song builds slowly as Sparhawks voice gains confidence and a guitar joins the vocalist and violin in the crescendo of the song. "Like a Forest" is one of the most instrumentally involved songs on the album. A single piano note, Parker's drumming, a dense string section, and Sparhawk's vocals all blend masterfully to create this poignant tune. "In Metal", the album closer, is the most heart-wrenching of them all. The song is about the couples baby (who can be heard squeaking in the song) and while partly disturbing, partly odd, and partly touching, Parker sings about how she wishes that she could capture the baby in metal, as to preserve it forever. It ranges from absolute bleakness, to a more melancholy ending, masterfully ending the record.
Straight to the point, Things We Lost In The Fire is one of the most spine chillingly beautiful albums I own. The vocal duets between Sparhaw and Parker are at their best, the minimalist yet flawlessly crafted compositions involving strings, piano, percussion and guitar are masterful, as well as the ever present creepy ambience, blended together, create the end product; something that is intimate, majestic and very moving.