Various Artists – We Could Live in Hope: A Tribute to Low

Various Artists
We Could Live in Hope: A Tribute to Low

Within a 10-year career and as many albums, Low has been the barometer to which all bands that mine the melancholic and plaintive side of indie music are judged. It was inevitable that Low would get the “tribute” treatment given its influence on the genre of slow-core. We Could Live in Hope: A Tribute to Low goes one better than delivering the requisite unfocussed re-writes of a career spent defining the genre; instead, this compilation makes the first error in judgement by focussing on Low’s formative, yet least-effective release, its debut album, I Could Live in Hope.

You could argue the point that Low really only truly hit its stride when it began to incorporate added dynamic and spice with further experiments in sound – meatier melodic structure, added instrumentation, and innovative production – to the band’s steadfast formula. Therefore, by the time one gets to later albums like Secret Name, Things We Lost in the Fire, and even Trust, there’s a confluence of cultivation, maturity, and depth of ideas now added to the incumbent glacial pace. All the above elevate these records from the torpor of Low’s early artefacts. Bereft of any of these later enhancements, you are basically left with pretty songs played at the same lethargic and stilted pace, with little or no dynamic variance.

Throughout We Could Live in Hope, it’s clear that the veterans on this tribute album are the artists who have a clear delineation and understanding of not only Low’s aesthetic oeuvre, but a unique vision in their own material that permeates and translates Low’s tentative first rumblings into inspired re-makes. It’s no surprise then, that the interpretations from, Idaho, Migala, and His Name is Alive are the real standouts on this album.

Idaho’s deconstruction of “Rope” is wonderfully propelled by drum machine, piano, fragile violin, and Jeff Martin’s hushed baritone. Spanish somnambulists, Migala, follow with the second — and incredibly effecting — rendition of “Words.” Migala singer, Abel Hernandez, delivers cigarette-stained vocals framed by backwards tape loops, military percussion, and stark piano in its sweeping and epic take on this song. His Name is Alive’s contribution wisely avoids re-casting “Sunshine” and instead embellishes the original with found sounds, string drones, muted overdriven organ, and minimalist tinkling percussion.

Ironically, Low itself has plied the covers game with ingenuity and self-effacing quirkiness, having tackled Soul Coughing, Joy Division, John Denver, and even the Misfits. Low covering Soul Coughing’s “Blue-Eyed Devil” amounts to a coup of poignancy and grace over the original’s jittery frenetic NYC funk. This is precisely the diversity of choice and adventure that is fundamentally missing from this tribute album. There’s too many of the converted coming to preach at the altar, and all speaking pretty much the same language. With not enough surprises and rabble-rousers to kick out the lethargic jams and truly offer up some challenging perspectives, We Could Live in Hope smacks of towing the party line, and consequently it falls short of the mark.