Every Record I Own: Low – Hey What
note: this post was written in January and edited in April. I felt a lot of pressure on myself to get Low right as they’re so important to me and couldn’t quite face finishing it.
This is a new record to me. It was a Christmas gift from Elly. A friend brought it back from the south island for me, so I only just got my hands on it the other day. I wasn’t planning on writing about it now, because I wanted to have more time with it before writing but I’ve put it on again after my first listen and felt like I needed to write about it.
Mimi Parker’s death has been one of the public figure deaths that has hit me the hardest.
Low’s music has always felt to me as being about the push and pull of experimentation and restraint. Which I’ve always attributed to Alan Sparhawk and Mimi Parker respectively, but I’m not sure how much that is true. Mimi Parker’s drum set up of a floor tom, cymbal and snare always kept them restrained to that set up.
This is a beautiful final album for them to have made together which seems to be 100% experiment and 100% restraint without losing anything of either of them. It’s their first album recorded without a third member of the band which supports that reading of mine.
When I first got into Low in my early 20s, I mostly listened to their middle career albums (Things We lost in the Fire to Drums and Guns) which were the most recent albums at the time, and the only ones I could find to download or find on CD. I would come back to them every few years often after they released a new album. While I’ve enjoyed everything they’ve done, I find myself going back to the albums that I know so well whenever I go to them.
Low were to me, a headphones at night, type of band. This album is not a headphones at night type album. I first listened walking to Elly’s house after work in late 2021. It was an incredibly hot day and I remember walking around the block and then sitting in Aro park so I could finish it before getting there.
There is a lot of studio swirling, and heavy tremolo throbbing through some of the tracks and an intensity that is amplified by listening on headphones. It was a difficult listen and I struggled to see the parts of Low I love so much on first listen.
I listened a few more times and there was something in there that was appealing but it was hard to access. I would usually give up part way through the album and return to one of the albums I knew well. It wasn’t until Mimi died that I gave it a proper chance and learned to love it.
Now I have it on a record Hey What feels like a completely different album. When it’s given space in a room, through speakers, and not put directly into my ear, the stereo effects don’t seem oppressive and claustrophobic but spacious. The dynamic range makes everything seem huge. The harmonies rise above the dissonant synths to bring the classic Low sound to the surface despite quite a different experience.
The drums sound so good on this album. As one of the core attributes of the band, Low have never allowed the drums to be a secondary but the drums The Price You Pay (Must Be Wearing Off) are especially amazing.
This album feels like it was the beginning of a new era of Low, building on the exploration of effects, synths, moving more into outright experimentation. It feels like a progression from the electronic sound of the last couple of albums but also like something new. I’m not sure if the Low name will continue with Alan and what it will sound like if it does. But it definitely couldn’t be the same.
They have 13 albums, and countless EPs and Singles and I’m incredibly grateful that the band has given us so much to discover. I still haven’t delved much into much of their early work. There aren’t many bands who have 30 years of music which is all worth listening to.
Before Christmas I found myself listening to their Christmas EP a lot (Just Like Christmas is an A+ song which I would listen to any time of the year). Looking through their discography I found another Christmas EP, It’s two tracks, Santa is Coming, one of the creepiest Christmas songs ever made. Santa is Coming sounds like a corrupted version of Low where the harmonies are dissonant rather than beautiful. The second track is a reasonably sincere reggae song ,Jah is Coming which is just baffling and quite bad. Neither of those songs will make it into my regular Low rotation. But it’s incredible that a band 25 years into their career of being a beloved quiet beautiful indie band are willing to put something like that out there.
In 2010 Low announced two shows in New Zealand, in Auckland and Wellington. I desperately wanted to go to one of them, but I had an exam scheduled in Christchurch the same day. After the first big earthquake, the exam was cancelled. But with everything going on at the time I didn’t put two and two together.
I remember being at uni on the day of the Low concert and seeing that it was on and realising I probably could have made it to the show. It was a big regret at the time but I always assumed they would be back and I’ll be able to see them. I probably did not have any money anyway but you never remember your exact bank balance when looking back at a moment.
I looked it up and they also played in 2016 and played in Wellington where I was living and I don’t even remember considering going. I don’t think I had listened to them for a while at that time and was doing my Masters and it was between Fringe and Comedy Festival seasons which I had been performing in. So as much as I am annoyed now that I missed them, I understand why I did.
Low will come back once more on this blog (unless I can find any other records of theirs which seems unlikely at the moment.)
fave songs: All Night, Days Like These, The Price You Pay,