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 via 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 Forged:
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 per 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 per week?” — seven occasions, in a stretch spanning a lot of the music’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 more difficult, 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 saved making unbelievable, revolutionary data — its thirteenth album, final yr’s HEY WHAT, was among the many band’s finest — as Parker lent a candy, hovering counterpoint to Sparhawk’s extra desolate sounds. Her dedication to magnificence shone throughout albums that touched on conflict, despair and isolation; her vocals and spare percussion gave Low’s sound a grounding pressure and a leavening agent .
HEY WHAT deployed Parker’s sneaky creative vary to devastating impact. Take “Extra,” which set her angelic voice towards a punishing blast of grinding, nearly industrial noise:
The music’s energy does not derive from the mere juxtaposition of magnificence and abrasiveness. As a substitute, Parker discovered a solution to meet “Extra” the place it lives, pushing her vocal to extremities she’d not often visited whereas nonetheless sounding like herself. She was nonetheless testing her limits to the top, as her voice saved shining a lightweight via 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 Forged someway 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 Dwell 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 shedding its ground-level understanding of minds wracked with disillusionment and doubt. All of which results 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 nearly to the a part of the yr once we collectively marvel 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 may hear it once more in commercials quickly sufficient, and in the event you’re like me, you will need to wrap it round you want a blanket.
That entire EP is divine, as Parker and Sparhawk lead us via notes of sleek melancholy (“Blue Christmas”), brutally stark realism (“If You Have been Born At the moment”) and one of many best variations of “Little Drummer Boy” in existence. However “Simply Like Christmas” is the observe 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 will keep in mind Mimi Parker that approach, as one of many unimpeachably melancholy perennials my household trots out each December. I will keep in mind hers as the primary singing voice my daughter heard after being born. I will hold on to recollections 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 ground 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 will nonetheless miss it for so long as I dwell.