I caught Low in concert a few months ago, and afterwards, the only thing I could think was that band should be this good. Listening to Dinosaur Act just reinforces that opinion. Low are too good for their own sake. Trying to describe their music is pointless. Words like “minimal” and “sparse” may describe the sound of their music, but they don’t do too good a job of describing its emotional impact. Perhaps the best metaphor for their music is the EP’s sleeve art. It’s the close-up of a guitar, strings covered in what looks like blood. It’s a guitar that plays music stripped to its essence, the beauty left naked for us to observe. The result is something pure and natural, as wholesome as can be, but also full of tension and anxiety.
Dinosaur Act, released on England’s Tugboat Records, gives us a taste of Low’s upcoming album, Things We Lost In The Fire. And the album’s immediately rocketed to the top of my “Most Anticipated of 2001” list. The title track is vintage Low. Zak Sally’s bassline is simple, yet anchors the song. Alan Sparhawk’s solos (if that’s what you can call them) are raw and distorted, while his melodies milk each note for all their worth. And of course, the vocals of Sparhawk and Mimi Parker are as lovely as ever.
The second track, “Overhead,” is a series of noisy loops through which Sparhawk and Parker’s vocals are filtered through. Low have always experimented with using noise and loops in their music, although I’ve always found it to be their weakest music. This track reminds me of some of noisier, less musical tracks on “Secret Name.”
But the real joy of this EP, and what probably makes it an essential Low recording, is “Don’t Carry It All.” I’m not sure, but I think this may the best thing Low has written. A simple, acoustic song, it’s an absolute powerhouse for Sparhawk and Parker’s vocals; it may be their best vocal performance . They seem completely angelic, as they soar higher and higher, in perfect harmony. No matter how many times I listen to this song, it gives me goosebumps.
It’s a song like this that cements in your mind just how special Low is, because as simple as their music may be, it’s not simple. No band should be this good, but they are. There’s no explanation for it, but there it is, with each and every listen.