Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Album of the Week: Low- Secret Name

I don't get minimalism. I mean, minimalism in visual arts. I'm admittedly not much for art art in general, but minimalism especially has always defied me to appreciate and/or understand it. Whenever I see minimalist art and read about it, I have the same thought: "I don't get it."

Oddly, then, I've never had a problem appreciating minimalism in almost every other arena of the arts. Especially music. I seem to have an odd predilection toward simple, repetitive, and stripped down music instead of ornate and multi-layered music. From Brian Eno's ambient albums to modern minimalist techno, I like almost all minimalist music I get my hands on. Low, obviously, is included.

It's easy to label Low as slowcore, but that misses the point. The slowness of their music isn't the defining aspect; after all, many post-rock and other fringe experimental bands play slow music. Really, Low are a minimalist rock band. Their music is slow, true, but it's also shot through with minimalism. Every guitar chord, bass note, drum beat, cymbal crash, and vocal line is exactly where the band wanted it to be, and is there for a very good reason.

Secret Name is my favorite Low album. I may as well just come out and say that, since it's going to be the only conclusion I come to each and every time I listen to it again. It will always stand as my version of what I think of as the ideal 'classic' Low sound, songs that are slow, hypnotic, beautiful, chilly and yet warm at the same time, intense, sad, and, of course, minimalist.

I think the problem most people make in listening to Low is that they force the band upon themselves. Of all the bands I love, Low is easily the one that I absolutely must listen to in the right mood and at the proper energy level or else I will hate them. Listening to Secret Name asks something more of the listener than most albums: that you are in the perfect state of mind and at the correct concentration level to give yourself over fully to it for its 52 minute duration. Listening to the album is like laying in the attic of an old farmhouse watching dust motes float in the sunshine, like taking a walk at night through a pine forest while the slow falls heavily around you, like whispering into the neck of your significant other when you're both too tired to have sex but unable to fall asleep...These times and moods come very rarely in life, and when they do, listening to Secret Name during them is just as sweet as the hyperactive, birthday party fun of Architecture in Helsinki's In Case We Die or the beer swillin', reptile brain throwdown of The Stooges' Funhouse.

So: Secret Name is an album you may only be in the mood to listen to a few times a year. But when you are, it'll be your short term favorite album ever.

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