Songs for a Dead Pilot is Low’s 5th album, their first since being signed to Kranky Records (which was probably where Low should’ve been all along). Anyways, if you’ve read my other reviews of Low’s music, you’ll get a general idea of what they sound like. Sad, haunting melodies played as slow and lathargically as possible, with male and female vocals that either stir you or seduce you. With many of the bands that I listen to, you either love them or hate them. And in most cases, that’s fine with me.
However, with Low’s music, I cannot understand why people don’t like them. Perhaps it’s the fact that Low, is slow and sparse and to most people, that means “boring.” But I’ve always found Low’s music to be suffused with a warmth, a sense of feeling and emotion that, because the music is so bare, is not smothered by showmanship and rock-star egos.
However, even I’ve been taken aback by Songs for a Dead Pilot. From the very beginning, this album doesn’t sound like Low. “Will The Night” almost sounds more ambient than anything. It’s a beautiful swirling piece in which the distinctions between vocals and instruments blur and become a solid mass of melancholy sound. Melodies and words are barely discernable, but they’re drowned beneath Loveliescrushing-esque sounds. It’s similar, in sound, to the masterpiece of “Do You Know How To Waltz?,” the 14 minute pinnacle of Low’s previous album.
Songs for a Dead Pilot is colder and more challenging than anything that Low’s previously released, and this feel is best embodied by “Down By The Wires.” The first time I listened to this song, I thought my CD player was skipping because the changes are so abrupt, almost violent. The song is so empty and sparse, especially for the last 6 or 7 minutes, (the track is over 13 minutes long) when guitarist/vocalist Alan Sparhawk practically drags out chords from his guitar, leaving them to stand there, alone and naked. The last sounds you hear are the chords fading and then the reverberation of strings. If anything, it would be a classic Low track. But there’s no emotion, and then the song drops down dead.
The song that probably recaptures the “old” Low is “Hey Chicago,” a slow that sounds like “Over The Ocean” revisited. Here, Sparhawk and drummer/vocalist Mimi Parker complement eachother vocally, sounding as world-weary as ever.
If anything, this album is probably the culmination, the climax of the sound that Low achieved on The Curtain Hits the Cast. Even thought I find I Could Live In Hope far more listenable, Songs for a Dead Pilot and The Curtain Hits the Cast probably remain the ultimate Low albums, the ultimate achievement for the band that many consider to be the “slowcore” band. But is this a good thing?
Anyone looking for a good introduction to Low might want to wean themselves on I Could Live in Hope or Long Division. On Songs for a Dead Pilot, Low plays each song in a very deliberate manner, as if each song survives from one chord or brushstroke to the next. Each chord sounds like it could be the last, stretched as far as possible. Each note or brushstroke played like a step in a funeral procession — deliberate and stately (“Landlord”).
In many ways, this is the hardest album for me to listen to, simply because it is so plodding and deliberate. I feel like I’m listening to Low on their last legs, like everything is being drained from them. I think this album is definitely something that only serious fans of the band will get into, but even they’ll be challenged. This could be the album that Low has been trying to achieve for sometime. After listening to it, I felt empty; not empty in the sense of having left unfulfilled, but in the sense of having lost something. But to the uninitiated, it’ll probably be the most boring thing they’ve ever heard.