Catherine P. Lewis for NPR
Mimi Parker died Saturday, however her voice rings out within the current tense. It is everlasting, radiant.
It is a heat, fragile factor, that voice. It shimmers warmly however cuts by means of the din like a highlight. It wavers however holds focus. For only one instance throughout practically three many years of music, take heed to «The Plan,» from Low‘s 1996 album The Curtain Hits the Solid:
As in so many Low songs, the phrases stay minimal to the purpose of abstraction:
On the step you handed me
Items of the plan
On the gate you handed me
Items of the plan
Can I maintain it for every week
That is it; that is «The Plan» in its entirety, although Parker repeats all or a part of that final line — «Can I maintain it for every week?» — seven instances, in a stretch spanning a lot of the track’s practically four-minute run time. With every cross, her phrases unfurl as an exhaled mantra; they hover and dissipate like heat breaths in wintry air.
Even because the Minnesota band’s sound grew busier, darker and tougher, Parker remained an artist of unusual restraint. She drummed with brushes and mallets, her phrases restricted to an impactful minimal. However even when she ceded the vocal highlight to her musical companion and husband, Alan Sparhawk, her presence was unwavering, unpretentious, commanding, important. She by no means wasted a stroke or a phrase.
Low simply stored making unimaginable, progressive data — its thirteenth album, final 12 months’s HEY WHAT, was among the many band’s greatest — as Parker lent a candy, hovering counterpoint to Sparhawk’s extra desolate sounds. Her dedication to magnificence shone throughout albums that touched on battle, despair and isolation; her vocals and spare percussion gave Low’s sound a grounding drive and a leavening agent abruptly.
HEY WHAT deployed Parker’s sneaky creative vary to devastating impact. Take «Extra,» which set her angelic voice in opposition to a punishing blast of grinding, virtually industrial noise:
The track’s energy would not derive from the mere juxtaposition of magnificence and abrasiveness. As an alternative, Parker discovered a option to meet «Extra» the place it lives, pushing her vocal to extremities she’d hardly ever visited whereas nonetheless sounding like herself. She was nonetheless testing her limits to the tip, as her voice stored shining a lightweight by means of ever extra unforgiving terrain.
The band’s 13 albums showcase astonishing vary for a band that remained so constant. The glowing great thing about Issues We Misplaced within the Fireplace and When the Curtain Hits the Solid one way or the other suits alongside late-career powerhouses like Double Unfavorable and Hey What, each of which successfully distort and invert Low’s formulation. Low’s debut album, 1994’s I Might Reside in Hope, works its magic with solely the sparest of constructing blocks and the air that hangs, conspicuously and forebodingly, between notes. And but you possibly can hear its echoes in Drums and Weapons, which hisses and seethes with punishing depth.
It is a catalog that flirts with the divine with out dropping its ground-level understanding of minds wracked with disillusionment and doubt. All of which ends up in a distinction that mustn’t be forgotten in any survey of Low’s profession: In 1999, the band made what might be the final really nice Christmas album.
We’re virtually to the a part of the 12 months once we collectively surprise why so few vacation requirements have emerged within the wake of Mariah Carey’s 1994 juggernaut «All I Need for Christmas Is You.» Your mileage might fluctuate, however the closest factor to a vacation customary we have skilled since then has been Low’s «Simply Like Christmas,» from 1999’s Christmas EP. You will hear it once more in commercials quickly sufficient, and in case you’re like me, you will need to wrap it round you want a blanket.
That complete EP is divine, as Parker and Sparhawk lead us by means of notes of swish melancholy («Blue Christmas»), brutally stark realism («If You Have been Born Immediately») and one of many best variations of «Little Drummer Boy» in existence. However «Simply Like Christmas» is the monitor that is most totally seeped into the general public consciousness, and it is a winsome object of sheer pleasure, as Parker’s voice appears to float from a faraway AM radio speaker whereas sleigh bells jingle throughout her.
I am going to keep in mind Mimi Parker that manner, as one of many unimpeachably melancholy perennials my household trots out each December. I am going to keep in mind hers as the primary singing voice my daughter heard after being born. I am going to cling on to reminiscences of listening to Parker sing dwell in crowded golf equipment, in addition to on the Tiny Desk and in a coffeehouse the place viewers members laid down on the carpeted flooring and drifted out and in of blissed-out consciousness. If I cease to breathe deeply and tune out the stray noise, I can nonetheless conjure Parker’s voice in my head as she holds a single be aware and lets it wash over the room.
That voice is a lightweight that may by no means be extinguished. However I am going to nonetheless miss it for so long as I dwell.