The Specialist – Slowcore
view serif;”>The 1990s saw a great deal of change, viagra inventiveness and rebellion against auto-tuned groups, treat Brit-Pop’s rise and the re-creation of the Pixies. In an era that was framed by Nirvana’s intense re-development of rasping guitars, which undermined broken up lyrics rather than shaping them, a host of bands would break the oppression of this noise driven ideology. Post-rock was yet to be established, yet a genre, whose image would soon be diluted by Mogwai’s lyric-less instrumentation, was brewing in the United States. Ambiguous is one description tossed around by many to demean the persona of slowcore. Its obscurity takes most by the scruff, either they believe that it is a positive reaction to the racket of Grunge, or they don’t. The genre’s influence can be found in Galaxie 500, reverie/dream-pop extraordinaires who took bold steps forward in the aftermath of early R.E.M. LPs.
Slowdive, slowcore’s next of kin artist who pre-date the genre, hail from Reading. England’s response to My Bloody Valentine re-created an approach to ‘shoegazing’ bands. A short record producing lifespan as well as closeness in sound suggest a similarity between the Irish kings of coarse yet subtle guitars and Nick Chaplin’s assembly. However, focused more on delusional back-drop guitars and strings, Slowdive’s brand of dream-pop was in a world of its own.
Just 4 years later in Minnesota, 1993, Alan Sparhawk brought together the collaboration between Mimi Parker (his wife) and John Nichols. Slowcore was created out of no hatred for their disparate Seattle rockers, rather a need for an opposing sound of simplicity in alternative rock. Though they have dabbled in electro-pop sounds and quick tempo guitar tracks, Low will forever be known for their literal creation of slowcore, a genre not known to many. In particular, I have fallen in love with the sparse vocals which are blended between Sparhawk and spouse, Parker, crafting luscious harmonies sweeping through their string-like guitars. The idea of Low’s creation was heightened yet slow-paced guitars constructed upon plenty of reverb, backing these ornate vocals.
I Could Live In Hope, Low’s first full length release, did not take the world by storm. Despite this, through long winded tours and the grace of ICLIH, and with its use of downtrodden lyrics and the fresh voices of one of the most under-rated couples to ever perform together, Low established themselves upon their innovativeness, garnering independent critical acclaim.
It may have taken over 5 years to break through the great musical divide, nevertheless, Minnesota’s minstrels created possibly music’s first new-original Christmas EP, featuring songs such as ‘Little Drummer Boy’ and ‘Silent Night’. The sometimes bleak minimalistic take on festivity shocked and forced awe amongst the media, from alternative to mainstream. What makes the album is the use of reverberated guitar, which produces incredible sleigh bell-esque noise, pouncing vocals and bleak turned optimistic lyrics (see ‘Just Like Christmas’). The record produces a typically Low sounding apogee for Christmas cover records. Finally, (in relation to Low’s more recent records) if any album deserved the accolade of defining a genre, Things We Lost in the Fire takes the award home. From its carefully aligned guitars in opener ‘Sunflower’, Sparhawk ignites mystery and loss within the hearts of listeners. ‘Whore’s’ disheveled female vocal takes nothing away from the alternation between picked arpeggios and measured, dwindling strumming. “What is the whore you’re living for?”
Forgive me for focusing too much on Sparhawk & Co., as not only did they invent slowcore, they also maintained it (almost single-handedly). However, a significant ascent of artists whose styles are deeply rooted in Slowcore and Low influenced techniques have emerged to top the list of new alternative bands. Red House Painters experimented in over-the-top levels of calm in their music, while minimalistic contemporaries, even as mainstream as Death Cab for Cutie show dedications to slowcore’s architects. Slowcore’s reach has been both varied and immense, and can grasp even the most unlikely observer into the fascinating world of this under appreciated genre. Keith Lematti