(Sad Songs & Waltzes is a recurring feature on Muzzle of Bees, where artists share their favorite sad songs. Previous contributors include Megafaun, Delta Spirit, Damien Jurado, Conrad Plymouth, Frontier Ruckus, and Roadside Graves.)
I’ve spent the last week enjoying the forthcoming White Pines record, The Falls. I met Joseph Scott, the man behind the White Pines moniker last year while he was touring with Strand of Oaks. We had a couple of great days together in Milwaukee. For this installment of Sad Songs & Waltzes, Joe discusses Low’s “That’s How You Sing Amazing Grace.”
I was fortunate enough to see Low a few years back, in an intimate venue with a small crowd, in Northern Michigan. Much of the audience was younger than me, maybe less aware of the history of the band, and certainly not aware of what was about to happen. Chatter echoed through the room, people were getting a little drunk, and I was worried that no one would pay attention to Low’s sparse, intense, and painfully beautiful arrangements. They opened the set with this song, and 5 seconds in, the room was silent. Conversations stopped mid-sentence, people milling around the room halted mid-step, and I even saw people who were about to leave, re-enter the venue. This song had everyone awestruck. And for me, it was like I was hearing it for the first time again, right along with the bulk of the audience. Low wields that kind of quiet power, and this song is a prime example.
Beautiful and haunting, sparse sometimes to the point of absurdity, this song rules. Its an exercise in restraint, remaining tense to the very end – a long and slow build to achieve the status quo. Even the vocal harmonies are kept from reaching any conclusion – at the end of the verses, they forgo their logical end-notes, changing instead to ones just slightly off-key. The guitar constantly builds to a crescendo that will never come, and at the end is left as sparse and muted as it began. It takes the idea of the sad song beyond just lyrical content, and creates an atmosphere of sadness that, if you’ll let it, can be incredibly effective. Not to take away from Alan Sparhawk’s lyricism, but what really makes this a great ‘sad song’ is the ambient feeling of darkness created by the music and structure. Its like swimming in tar.
I’ve often told my girlfriend that if she suspects I might be having a bad day, a great way to know for sure is to check my turntable. If this record is on it, then yes – its not been a great day, and I might need a hug.