Can one avoid personal anecdote when talking about a band like Low—one that seems to have burrowed so deep in the consciousness of many a melancholy man? (Let’s be clear, because we’re not going to get much further without nodding in acknowledgment over this fact: I am a very melancholy young man. Take my word for it.) So, what the fuck, here’s a personal anecdote: the first time I heard Low was “Words,” the first song on their debut album. Everyone knows Low songs are slow, but let me throw some numbers at you: there are about a dozen lines of lyrics in “Words,” which lasts five minutes and forty-five seconds...but where was I? Yes, anecdote. Cue eye-rolls, because I’m about to tell you that the first time I heard this song, I was a freshman in college, awake after a dreadful date that ended in a car accident (seriously), thirty-six hours of sleeplessness hanging like weights on my eyelids, unable to enter my room because my roommate had slung a sock over the doorknob (maybe not a sock, but cliches invest memory, don’t they?). I was sitting away from home, away from my room, in a public dorm lobby, strange people staring at my barely-awake form (thus preventing me from sleep), and with headphones on, I listened to the latest batch of music I had downloaded—and there was Low. My bones turned to dust; no, I was not home, but this fucking thing? This was a burial.
As for Crowded House--can I be honest? I’ve heard this song probably hundreds of times in my life, but before this tournament began, I had no idea there was a band called Crowded House. Mostly when I’ve heard this song, it has been a few beers deep at karaoke—okay, sorry, I lied, many, many beers deep at karaoke—during moments when, in a desperate bid to stay away for a few more hours, but lacking the energy to perform my own damn songs, I have raised my fist and my voice in celebration of the chorus: “Hey now, hey now.” I’m sure, on at least a handful of these occasions, I have accidentally sung “don’t say it’s over” instead of “don’t dream it’s over,” but that’s okay; the cute tattooed woman across the room, whose smile momentarily took me away from the karaoke screen emblazoned with the song’s lyrics, never judged my inept singing.
So what am I saying about these songs exactly? Maybe it’s this: Crowded House’s sadness is radiant, expectant. The gloss on this song (guitar solo: rawr) makes the whole thing somewhat distant—communal, yes, but still words on a screen that you sing while holding close friends, while thinking—no, knowing—life will get better, that you’ll one day go home, that you’ll still have a home to go to. “Words”—and, hell, most of the songs in Low’s discography—on the other hand? In those, you have no home to return to anymore. Low sings, “Man in the box wants to burn my soul,” but, hell, the man in the box has burned more than just your soul: he has burned your family, your life. “Don’t Dream It’s Over” is the redemptive sadness you feel as you leave the party; “Words” is despair of getting home and finding out, while you were out singing and clinging to friends, your house was burning down. In Low’s desolate landscape, there are screams, there is fire—and the worst part about it all? Low writes, “But I know they’re gonna make it just one more night.” Think about that: Low doesn’t even sink you into the very end, even though they acknowledge the end is coming very soon. There’s still more time to go, still more suffering to have, even if just a pinch.
For Crowded House, the end is a dream you can maybe not have; for Low, well, settle your affairs, because you’re running out of time. —Benjamin Rybeck
(14) Low, "Words"
(6) Crowded House, "Don't Dream It's Over"
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