Live Review: Low, Mike Noga

7 April 2016 | 11:45 am | Craig English

"What they have is unique and rare, which makes Low a diamond in the rough of increasingly kitsch indie-rock."

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Having recently made his departure from The Drones, Mike Noga has turned his attention from drumming to focus more on developing his profile as a solo artist in his own right. Given that musicians from Father John Misty to Phil Selway have all tried their hands at this very foray into the spotlight with no small measure of success, it would appear Noga is in good company. Armed with a richly mournful voice to deliver a modest cache of ballads, some about German plays in which someone gets murdered at the end (because of course they do), it was a foreboding preparation for the cold snap to come.

It's worth considering, for a moment, the very real impact that geographical regions have on exactly what music people produce there. To more clearly illustrate the point, it would be hard to imagine, for example, the dulcet tones of Jonsi originating from the fires of a Latin American country, as much it would the works of Miles Davis being a flagship model of the music produced in communist China. The chilling and minimalist melodies of Low, from Duluth, Minnesota, are instantly evocative of some of the brutally cold but quiet white tundra landscapes the state is known for — Mimi Parker and Alan Sparhawk's harmonies a soothing but solemn reminder that where they're from, it's almost too cold to sing with any more gusto.

Sparhawk found room to play a few chords in among the relentless thrashing he gave his guitar as it cried with tortured sounds of distortion in On My Own. Thankfully tempered by a vibrato in Parker's voice that was so beautifully subtle it was almost imperceptible, Plastic Cup and Sunflower wove a much needed delicacy and soft charm into the set, cooling the slow burn of some of the heavier numbers. Sparhawk's cheeky speculating as to the number of people in the crowd who'd paid for babysitters in order to attend the gig earned him a well-timed "Could you hurry up?" in reply from one father eager to return home to his kids, which broke up the stillness between songs well.

It's obvious that the real strength of Low comes from the coupled voices of Parker and Sparhawk, so much so that when singing independently of one another, it's quite surprising how noticeable the difference really is. But at their level, what they have is unique and rare, which makes Low a diamond in the rough of increasingly kitsch indie-rock.