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Low’s New Album (Probably) Can’t Hurt You

Plus indie-pop limericks, Basilica woes, and other local music news and tunes.

Mimi Parker and Alan Sparhawk of Low.
Nathan Kray

Thanks to everyone who suggested column names last week. Lots of fun suggestions… none of which work for me exactly. It’s not you, it’s me. Maybe I will choose one of them eventually? I’m just indecisive that way. This is why I never had kids—no child should be called “you” for the first six years of their life. We’ll get there.

I Went a Little Longer on the New Low Album Than I’d Planned 

Nobody ever smashes a saxophone onstage. The electric guitar may be rock music’s one true love, but you know what they say about who the only ones we hurt are. The guitar’s expressive capability is often the result of an antagonism between musician and instrument, a struggle that’s stereotypically heroic, youthful, ecstatic, sexual, and (ugh, yes) male. But on Low’s 13th album HEY WHAT (Sub Pop) Alan Sparhawk’s desire to mutilate his guitar work, with help once more from producer BJ Burton, suggests a more opaque form of mastery. “Maybe it’s revenge—I want to see technology break as much as it has broken me,” Sparhawk dryly told Pitchfork. In any case, his effort to neutralize his own virtuosity becomes a form of virtuosity in itself.

Low’s last album, 2018’s Double Negative, was rock as digitized cubism, each musical element chopped and processed and assembled into recompositions both forbidding and foreboding. Though no less experimental in its way, HEY WHAT instead spotlights the contrast between the endlessly mutable guitar and the relatively untreated human voices of Sparhawk and Mimi Parker. For all their impeccable, nigh on stately harmonies, these are two distinct people communicating, and to highlight that, sometimes one singer will hold a note longer than the other, or break into a countermelody. Staying together takes effort, and never feels perfect. As Parker and Sparhawk sing (together) on “Days Like These”: “No, you’re never gonna feel complete/No, you’re never gonna be released.”

Where its predecessor tended toward the abstract at times, HEY WHAT never abandons a melodic core, the familiar structure of a song. The guitar hovers on the outside of this, an entity that afflicts the singers, then sometimes enters their midst. You can hear this relationship in the way the cavernous warped overture to the opener, “White Horse,” condenses to a prickly staccato accompaniment, then accelerates and rises in pitch during the coda. But maybe there’s less to fear than it seems. On “More,” a huge, distorted alt-rock guitar attacks, then bends and curves with unexpected vulnerability on its edges. It’s like Bob Mould gone hyperpop, wielding the instrument’s rousing power while revealing its effects as illusory. The mighty rock guitar, long cherished as the fearsome symbol of “real music,” is revealed once again as a set of easily manipulable electronic signals. 

Low kicks off its tour with two shows at Square Lake Film & Music Festival in Stillwater tonight and tomorrow. Tonight Gaelynn Lea and Lord Friday the 13th open. Joe Rainey Sr. and Lord Friday the 13th open tomorrow.

Avett Brothers Basili-can’t

If you’ve got tickets to the Basilica Block Party on Saturday night… well, I hope you’re a Spoon fan. North Carolina roots-poppers the Avett Brothers have pulled out, with their stated (or rather tweeted) reason: “Out of an abundance of caution due to COVID-19 exposure.” The Basilica has already had to adjust to COVID times, moving its annual throwdown from July to September and instituting vax-or-test requirements for attendees. The Avetts have also canceled a Sunday gig at Bluestem Amphitheater in Moorhead, though their tour will resume thereafter.

Live Music, Downtown and “Uptown”

On the brighter side, let’s celebrate two more Minneapolis venues getting back to live music. The Uptown (But Is It Really?) VFW will kick things off tonight with the Hall & Oates tribute act Private Oates. The rest of their schedule is here. The Dakota, which is undeniably downtown, will be showing off some renovations made during the shutdown with locals Davina & the Vagabonds and Louisiana zydeco from Chubby Carrier this weekend. Their full calendar is here. Both venues have vax or test requirements.

Brauer Writes ’Em, Messersmith Sings ’Em

Two local notables have hit on a unique fundraising technique for Ward 11 council member Jeremy Schroeder’s re-election campaign. Drop a few bucks in the pot and begrudging Racket well-wisher David Brauer will write a risque limerick about you, which ace songwriter Jeremy Messersmith will then set to music and perform for you. Only in Minneapolis, folks! Maybe even only in the 11th Ward!

Oh, Also, Gully Boys 

The trio dropped an EP today, Favorite Son, but we’ve got something bigger on them in the works so it would be overkill to do more than link to the music for now. OK, maybe just one behind-the-scenes video.

Here are some other reasons to leave your house (if you’re vaccinated and feeling well.)

Friday 9.10

Under Violet with Val Son and Kansas Plates @ Turf Club

Tabah (Release Show) with Purple Funk Metropolis and Dr. Goon and The Daily Tribune @ 7th St Entry

Lazenlow (release show) @ Icehouse

Saturday 9.11

The 5th Annual Vampire’s Ball @ PNA Hall

Blocktober Fest @ Dual Citizen Brewing

Enormous Quartet (reunion show) @ Icehouse 

Sunday 9.12

Erik Koskinen with Will Overman and Todd Albright @ Turf Club

Monday 9.13

Erik Fratzke (residency) with Peter Goggin @ Icehouse

Tuesday 9.14

Luke Callen, the Foxgloves @ 331 Club

Wednesday 9.15

Paul Metzger, Krissy Bergmark @ Icehouse

Thursday 9.16

Petty Larcenists, Teenage Strangler, Mad Mojo Jett @ Mortimers

Ethan Iverson Feat. Marcy Harriell @ Crooners Supper Club

And be sure to check out more weekend music events (and other fun stuff) in this week’s Event Horizon.