Sunday, May 29 2005
Marble-sized hailstones fell from the sky as I was driving back home from Woodstock. But I nevertheless took the opportunity to pull into the West Hurley Park to snag a modest-sized piece of bluestone. I don't even have a project in mind, I just know bluestone is a good material to keep in stock.
I've been exploring a bit more of the back catalog of Low, the trio that made a name for themselves with their deliberately slow, "quiet" music (and the "slowcore" movement that it spawned). I can't find many of their songs on the Gnutella network - just the relatively peppy song "Canada" and a few videos from their latest album and one of them doing a live performance of something extremely slow.
There's something a little wrong with the music of Low, and I had my finger on the pulse of it when I wrote that many of their lyrics come across as empty threats. It's more clear what the problem is when you watch their videos - they draw attention to both the songs' ponderous repetitiveness and the band's unjustified seriousness. These are both put on prominent display in the video for their excellent song "Monkey." In it, snow drifts around the band as they play in the middle of a forested highway, guitarist/vocalist Alan Sparkhawk badly overacting as he lip-syncs while his pregnant wife, the drummer/vocalist Mimi Parker looks bored and irritated, to the point where it comes as a surprise when she ends up lip syncing at all. Periodically we are treated to scenes of them driving down the road looking super cool, but with them is a goofy-looking monkey puppet that keeps putting his hands over his eyes every time the band sings "tonight the monkey dies." This repeated gesture alerted me to the dependence Low has upon repetition, the sort I wouldn't be able to stand if it was done by any other band. It's a weakness in their music, but one I'd been content to ignore.
As for the monkey itself, in the context of all the over-seriousness in the video around him, I suppose he could be construed as some sort of ironic reference, perhaps with a dash of nostalgia for the early low budget days of Men Without Hats videos. But that would be a pretty cheap irony bought at great æsthetic cost. It's not easy for a band to release a video that makes me like a song less, but I think Low have managed to pull it off.
I wondered if perhaps the problem was that I'd outgrown videos since the last time I'd seen one. But then I saw the video for "Banquet" by Bloc Party and I didn't just start loving the song - I started loving the band too. I wouldn't have believed it was possible to pump organic warmth into the mechanical heart of Retro New Wave, but then I saw that video. Wow.
Back, though, to the wonderfully ponderous-yet-austere music of Low.
I've learned from online sources that two thirds of Low's members are Mormons, though their music is entirely secular. But it's possible that in the song "Canada" our neighbor to the north is used as a metaphor for Heaven. This would explain why they sing "You can't take that stuff to Canada." As metaphors for Heaven go, Canada is about as apt as any I can think of: you "go up" to get there, things there are orderly and well-planned, its residents seem a wee bit asexual, the weather is cool, and throughout much of the year the ground is covered with snow and looks like clouds. (While we're at it, Mexico could serve as a metaphor for Hell: it's hot, overcrowded, and you have to "go down" to get there.)
The members of Low constitute my second recent discovery of creative geniuses from the world of Joseph Smith, renounced polygamy, Holocaust soul-scavenging, Disneyland Gothic, plagerized Masonic rituals, and caffeine abstinence. (The first would be the wacky folks who brought us Napoleon Dynamite.)
Two instances of anything doesn't necessarily indicate a trend, but (if only for amusement) it still leads me to ponder: could we be in the midst of a Mormon secular Renaissance? There aren't that many Mormons in this country (though there are even fewer Jews), and the fact that they're creating anything at all when they're supposed to be spending years overseas prosyletizing to heathens, raising enormous families, and working hard to pay hefty tithes makes me wonder: maybe all these creative Mormons are proof positive that caffeine isn't a necessary prerequisite for a renaissance. Just don't expect the music to be peppy.
If Mormons continue to crank out interesting culture I think I'll eventually get used to their peculiar form of swearing, wherein they use words like "gosh darn" and "stinkin'" in places where normal people might say "fucking" and "shitty." To fully appreciate Mormon obscenities, you have to view them as words in another language, words that mean the same as fuck, shit, goddamn, asshole, whore, bitch, shithead, dick, cunt or whatever your foul secular mind can imagine.
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