In 1994, a mormon couple from Duluth, Minnesota formed a band that would soon become known as the slowest, quietest and most doleful in America. To most musicians, the rigid aesthetic parameters that Alan Sparhawk, Mimi Parker (and bassist Zak Sally) imposed on themselves would have been impossible to sustain for long. Yet a decade later, Low remain an immutable fixture on the musical landscape: still, pure, minimal, and not quite as stern as they sometimes appear.
It would be a mistake to paint A Lifetime Of Temporary Relief as packed with great gags. Fundamentally this is sombre and beautiful music that takes the stark crawls of Galaxie 500 and Codeine and extrapolates them into a surprisingly fulfilling career. Over 10 years, three CDs and 55 tracks, no note is wasted. Songs progress with meticulous sloth, savouring the possibilities of every chord and rustle of brush against drum. Sparhawk and Parker have warm lullaby voices when they harmonise but, in isolation, they can sound wonderfully desolate.
Over the duration of an album, Low’s exploration of such a melancholy, theoretically limited palette has always been compelling. Four hours of it in one sitting, however, is a tad too much for even the most dedicated fan. A Lifetime is satisfying as an encyclopaedia of Low, to be dipped into now and again. That way you can fish out the likes of first demo “Lullaby”, 10 minutes of tremulous grandeur that seems to bring time to a precarious halt; or “I Remember”, an unexpectedly successful sidestep into glacial, Cure-ish synth-pop.
There’s also a great covers album dispersed throughout this box, which highlights Low’s fine taste and the adaptability of their formula. Clearly, most decent songs can survive being played very slowly, including “Blowin’ In The Wind” and The Smiths’ “Last Night I Dreamt That Somebody Loved Me”. Secreted at the end of Disc Two, three unlisted live tracks derive from a Halloween gig when the band recast their songs as glue-encrusted thrashabouts