Remembering Mimi Parker’s Beautiful, Blessed Voice
On November 5, 2022, Low’s Mimi Parker lost her battle with ovarian cancer. Her husband and bandmate, Alan Sparhawk, announced the sad news this morning: “She passed away last night, surrounded by family and love, including yours. Keep her name close and sacred. Share this moment with someone who needs you. Love is indeed the most important thing.” (Read a full obituary on Pitchfork.)
Parker was one of my favorite singers, ever since I first heard her harmonize with Sparhawk on 1994’s I Could Live in Hope. I think Steve Albini, who worked on 1999’s Secret Name and 2001’s Things We Lost in the Fire, said it best: “Even through the grind of their noisier recent material, Alan & Mim… are the pure singing ideal. Like somebody’s playing an organ made of ghosts.”
Parker’s voice could be world-weary, heart-breaking, and transcendent all at once, and brought so much beauty, grace, and light into the world. She was able to imbue even Low’s most experimental moments, like 2018’s Double Negative, with a warmth and intimacy that made the music all the more powerful. Put simply, her voice was a blessing. If you haven’t been fortunate enough to hear Mimi Parker sing, then these songs are just a very small sample of what awaits you.
“Words” (I Could Live in Hope, 1994)
The first Low song I ever heard, and still one of my favorites. The moment I first heard Parker harmonize with Sparhawk on the song’s chorus, I was absolutely transfixed and knew, beyond any doubt, that Low was destined to be one of my favorite bands — and that was over 25 years ago.
“Over the Ocean” (The Curtain Hits the Cast, 1996)
Another classic from Low’s early days, and another showcase for Parker’s inimitable harmonies, which are deceptively simple but filled with grace — like so much of Low’s music.
“Will the Night” (Secret Name, 1999)
One of Low’s most transcendent songs that’s made even more so by the string arrangements and Parker’s harmonies, which just seem to build in beauty with each passing moment.
“Just Like Christmas” (Christmas, 1999)
This stands out because it’s one of the jauntier tunes in Low’s catalog, and if I remember correctly, one of the few songs where Parker played a full drum kit as opposed to her usual, stripped down kit. Parker takes center stage, and her unpretentious vocals are perfect for a song about Christmas gone awry.
“One Special Gift” (Christmas, 1999)
Appearing at the opposite end of Christmas from “Just Like Christmas,” “One Special Gift” is Low at their most stripped down, just Parker’s voice and Sparhawk’s spartan guitar. Although they’re practicing Mormons, religion never figured too prominently in Low’s music, but “One Special Gift” ends on a statement of devotion that’s all the more meaningful for its simplicity and humility.
“Code” (360 Business / 360 Bypass by Pan•American, 2000)
Low’s music has always had an experimental bent, even when they were just seeing how sloooow they could play. Which means that while their collaboration with Mark Nelson’s ambient dub doesn’t exactly make sense on paper, Sparhawk and Parker’s ghostly voices prove to be a perfect pairing with Nelson’s otherworldly electronics.
“In Metal” (Things We Lost in the Fire, 2001)
“In Metal” was written in honor of Sparhawk and Parker’s newborn daughter, and even features her coos in the background. But when Parker sings “Partly hate to see you grow/And just like your baby shoes/Wish I could keep your little body/In metal,” she expresses every parent’s lament at their kids growing up, albeit in a way that feels just a wee bit morbid.
“Tonight” (Trust, 2002)
I always feel like Trust is one of Low’s most under-appreciated albums because it features some of the band’s most haunting songs. Specifically, this absolute showcase for Parker’s voice, which seems absolutely effortless as it glides across Sparhawk’s silvery guitar notes.
Low has covered a lot of artists over the years, including Joy Division, Spacemen 3, Al Green, Toto, and The Smiths. But for one of their more eclectic covers, they took a run at Rihanna’s 2012 hit ballad, “Stay.” One doesn’t usually associate Minnesotan slowcore with chart-topping pop and R&B, but Low pull it off — and arguably make the song their own.
“Some Hearts (at Christmas Time)” (2016)
Low’s music captures perfectly both the holiness and heartache that can exemplify the Christmas season. When Parker sings “Some hearts will break at Christmastime/Some hearts are made too whole, too fine” against a swirling ambient backdrop, it’s a stark-yet-compassionate affirmation that, for all of their beauty, the holidays can be a time of darkness and struggle, as well.
“Let’s Stay Together” (2018)
Low began covering this Al Green classic at least as far back as 2015, but in 2018, they finally recorded it as an actual single around the same time they were recording Double Negative. Some of that album’s fractured production appears in this cover, too, but it’s really Parker’s soulful vocals that remain the song’s focus.
“Fly” (Double Negative, 2018)
With 2018’s Double Negative, Low chose to obliterate their classic sound, opting instead for bruised electronics and thick slabs of glitchy, distorted noise. The result? Some of the best and most exhilarating music in their decades-long career. “Fly” is one of the clear highlights, with Parker’s plaintive voice soaring high above surreal soundscapes.
For more reactions to Mimi Parker’s death, check out The Guardian, NME, Rolling Stone, Stereogum, and Treblezine.