A Journal Of The Dark Arts

Low – I Could Live In Hope album review

Released on February 18, 1994, Low’s debut album is the Duluth, Minnesota trio in their purest state – quiet, sparse, haunting and chillingly beautiful.

On November 5, 2022, the indie music community lost one of its most heavenly voices. Mimi Parker, co-vocalist and drummer of the longstanding slowcore institution Low, succumbed to her battle with ovarian cancer, which she’d been battling since 2020. In honour of her spirit and indelible contributions to underground music, we’re going to offer an in-depth analysis of her entire recorded oeuvre, beginning with Low’s stunning, iconic debut I Could Live In Hope.

With its minimalist drumming, mysterious Middle Eastern guitars, aggressively slow tempos and hair-raising, spine-chilling vocal harmonies courtesy of husband-and-wife duo Alan Sparhawk and Mimi Parker, I Could Live In Hope is Low at their purest and most uncompromising. Nearly 30 years later, it still sounds fresh and revelatory.

It’s difficult to conceptualize how it must’ve sounded amidst the consuming tumult of grunge, the sarcastic pop punk of Green Day (Dookie was released at the beginning of that month), the angsty industrial rock (Nine Inch Nails would release the March of the Pigs single the following week, Therapy? had released their breakout Troublegum two weeks prior, and Stabbing Westward had just come out with their debut Ungod a few days before). Instead of brawny metal or scrappy hardcore, Low would cite far more spare fare as influences – Brian Eno, LaMonte Young, Joy Division, and the elegant, dreamy guitar rock of Galaxie 500, with producer Kramer being tapped for production, who was impressed with their subtle, slo-mo rock.

Despite its slow-as-molasses tempo and whisper-quiet dynamics, I Could Live In Hope sounds more challenging than those louder records released the same month. It’s also darker and more ominous – like a starless winter sky in their native Duluth, Mn – than the metallic fare, including Darkthrone‘s iconic Transilvanian Hunger which had just been released the day before. Low’s songs are seeped in desperation, despair, and regret. Its makers may have been Mormons, but I Could Live In Hope sounds like cribbed straight from the journals of the achingest, cravingest opiate addicts to ever crawl a cold, dark winter night in search of a fix.

Do not mistake slowness and quiet for boredom or uneventfulness, though (a common complain lobbed at the band.) Nearly every song on I Could Live In Hope bears some remarkable filigree, like Alan Sparhawk’s sparse-but-deadly-effective guitar on album opener “Words” or the falling flat declaration of “Fear”‘s title. Other songs hint at the nightside of human experience with vague, quiet subtlety – hinting at menace but leaving it unspoken, like a short story with all of the terrors and ennui happening off-screen – as on “Cut.”

distance fails but it keeps her alive

thinks that evil’s on her side

gets rid of things that don’t matter

she used to let me cut her hair

Jesse’s gone inside out

she used to let me cut her hair

Low, “Cut”

Mimi Parker’s lead vocal appearances are some of the albums most striking moments, pouring out like a biblical flood from Sparhawk’s minimalist restraint. “Slide” will break your heart without once resorting to melodrama; Parker’s heart-rending Soprano is all that’s necessary.

I Could Live In Hope reads like a collection of minimalist miniature short stories, like a quieter and more spacious take on Vic Chesnutt‘s teeming, crowded streets. It’s an open-handed invitation into Low’s world – one you’d be well advised to accept..It’s one of the most stunning debuts this side of The Velvet Underground, and remains nearly as influential 30 years on.

We’re going to be doing a deep-dive into all of Mimi Parker’s recorded output, including notable unofficial recordings, in the days, months, and weeks to come. In the meantime, let us know what you think of I Could Live In Hope, Low, and share your own memories and experiences with Mimi Parker’s magical musical legacy.

You can also listen to a rather remarkable live performance from the month following the album’s release from Brass City Records in Woodsbury, Ct.

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