Parker and Lily - "The Low Lows"



Taking the cue from certain people I know (Be Yourself), I thought to upload my favourite of '05.

01. The Low Lows

02. I am a Gun

03. June Gloom

04. User's Guide

05. The Last Good Night

06. Suit of Fire

07. Invisible Cities

08. Candy's Last Day

09. Smashing Party

10. I Don't Live Here Anymore

Cover art (front)

Promotional photograph

why don't you find out for yourself?

why? so you can slate them too


> Who are they?


Parker and Lily’s 2001 debut Hello Halo was a blissful, sugared snapshot of domestic romance, with only the occasional lover’s tiff to offset the sweetness; a honeymoon for a New York couple clearly unaccustomed to such luck. By the time the 2002 follow-up was released their work had taken on a noticeably darker tone. Shot through with doubts and suspicions -- though in the end still capable of the occasional pure and un-ironic love song -- Here Comes Winter (Manifesto Records) came mostly in the form of caustic Who’s-Afraid-of-Virginia-Woolf-style domestic narratives. The upcoming third installment of the Parker and Lily saga, The Low Lows (due January 25 on Warm Records) would appear to be the implosive conclusion of the affair, a violent and bitter album of broad scope and unexpected viciousness.

Recorded in the spring of 2004, during the final few months of Parker Noon and Lily Wolfe’s decade-long romance, The Low Lows is a set-piece of heartbreak songs, couched in a series of five and six-minute lo-fi mini-symphonies. Heavily reverbed, tube-and-tape based (sounding something like a worn-out 7” of Phil Spector producing My Morning Jacket), it’s a labyrinthine album, easier to get into than out of. Farfisa, strings, Rhodes, steel guitar, horns & feedback struggle to balance each other as Parker stutters & mumbles his signature brand of unhappy harmony. Sad southern tints give way unexpectedly to bright walls of melody. Sparse brushwork and deceptively apathetic baritone-guitar arpeggios explode into ice-storms of noise or decay into clouds of feedback. The songs are, on average, twice as long as on previous albums, and dynamics are of the essence this time out, as each song swells from minimalist beginnings toward a sweeping chorus.

If one accepts the premise that songwriting is therapeutic, then The Low Lows would seem to be the soundtrack of Couples Counseling gone badly awry -- all hypnotic, rough-edged ballads, sung sadly; all paranoid constructions, full of subtle malice and hidden agendas. Well aware of the axiom that “every work of art is an uncommitted crime”, the album lays out it’s brutal inclinations (“I shine at night time / I light up a party when I arrive / This suit of fire is so bright that I might burn your eyes when I decide to Flame On”) as if to confess and be done with them. Points of reference might include bleak and moody rural Americana such as Badlands (1973); though tempered with reserves of will more evident in, say, Tender Mercies (1979), and centered musically around a glittery and morose urban/urbane axis with it’s roots in the starkest of rock and pop ballads.

Noon has evolved over the years, for better or worse, into a Cormac McCarthyesque sort of anti-hero - conflicted, mean, and apologetic - who struggles with his own capacity for evil (“Shoot me / I am a gun / Don’t take me off the shelf / You’ll be sorry you drew me / sorry you knew me”). Concise language predominates throughout, avoidance of the musical diarist’s typical blog meanderings; Parker writes dense, multi-layered verse in the vein of literary Modernists like Genet & Dylan Thomas (“Candy’s kiss is a red weal / slow slip and sweet spill / Candy’s eyes are islands but her hands are gulls / that can’t be still”). His lyrics tell sad stories cryptically, with a precise, poetic minimalism that says little and suggests everything, and in The Low Lows his usual tense, mumbling vocal delivery (think Peter Sellers as Quilty in Lolita, or Benicio Del Toro’s Fenster in The Usual Suspects) has evolved toward something anthemic and defiantly melodic. On songs like I Am A Gun and The Last Good Night, layers of bittersweet harmony transform even the most mean-spirited and simple of lines ("Don't blink your stylish eyes like that at me / You're not the f***ing prom queen") into complicated and disturbing love notes. From the titular ballad’s falsetto-vocal and drum noise choruses to the long solo-steel-guitar intro of June Gloom’s country narcosis, from Suit of Fire’s driving, monotone meditation on lust to the almost-inaudible first notes of the low-light trombone-and-vibraphone track Invisible Cities, from the backhanded Velvets homage Candy’s Last Day to the climactic, stomping distortion of The Last Good Night’s Stax/Volt coda, it’s this barely contained violence that sets The Low Lows apart.

Lily, for her part, is a deliberate cypher -- her influence is pervasive, but obscure. Her lush Rhodes chording bleeds into the melodies scripted for Daniel Rickard’s tremoloed Farfisa, and her string and horn arrangements, laid over the fractured and fragmented drumming of Jeremy Wheatley, undercut genre expectations of enervation, torpor, boredom. Rickard (of Phosphorescent and The Good Ship) is the latest addition to the band, replacing Christina Campanella, who left just after the completion of The Low Lows. Wheatley replaces a 1961 AceTone Rhythm King. Perhaps as a result of the geography of this lineup, urban and rural influences vie for pride of place throughout The Low Lows -- both new members reside in Athens, Georgia, as does Lily since the breakup, though Noon remains, for now, a staunch Manhattanite. Nonetheless, the band is together on the road most of the year, peforming extensively at home and in Europe, both as headliners and as tour-openers for (among others in recent memory) Stephin Merritt, Calvin Johnson, Arab Strap, and Interpol. And while Parker And Lily the band will continue to tour (coast-to-coast US tours are scheduled for the first months of ‘05, following a winter of shows abroad), and to record (the first sessions for their fourth album are already under their belt), Parker and Lily the couple is finished, and The Low Lows is their long love affair’s fitting eulogy.

Parker and Lily
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