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Why There's No Money in My 401(k)
A Diary of Obsessive Materialism (Vol. 3)
by Kyle Olson

In an effort to fulfill some bizarre need in my life, I purchase a lot of CDs, both old and new. They are obsessively cataloged and organized and poured over track by track (Seriously, it's obsessive. It involves post-it notes and code and excel spreadsheets). It is truly a labor of love (and an unhealthy psychological imperative). But, since I am consuming so much music, I thought I could use this constant influx for the powers of good. Should I come across anything worth sharing (either a new release or an old favorite), I will share them with you. So you'll love me.

Low - A Lifetime of Temporary Relief (Chairkickers Music)
The first thing most people are going to notice about Low, Duluth's champion of the unfortunately-named genre "slowcore," is their glacial pace. Any listener who gives them more than a casual listen, however, will be rewarded by recognizing the heart-stopping beauty of the band's merrily minimalist melodies. Low's core of husband-wife team Alan Sparhawk and Mimi Parker have been releasing chillingly gorgeous music for well over a decade now, being recorded by Steve Albini, putting out albums on the heavyweights of indie labels, getting Christmas songs into Gap ads, touring with bands from Swans to Radiohead, and otherwise just being married Mormon folks who can pick a great cover and coo your still-beating heart right out of your chest. By releasing A Lifetime of Temporary Relief, Low has given a gift to music fans everywhere. Fans of Low will now have a 3-CD/1-DVD collection of B-sides, rarities, and documentary footage to fill in the gaps of their adoration, and newcomers wanting to check out the band's sterling reputation have a perfect entry point to hear every facet and aspect of Low's decade-long career.

It would be easy to peg Low as a band that simply does "slow/pretty" very well. This is due to the fact that Low... well.... does "slow/pretty" very well. But it would be very boring if that was all they did, and Lifetime helps to illustrate the other characteristics of the Minnesota trio. For instance, their cover of Journey's "Open Arms" for a friend's wedding (in which Sparhawk breaks into laughter mid-way through) is a pretty sizeable nod to the band's sense of humor. As are the secret tracks on disc two that document a Halloween show where the band speedily ripped through several of their songs as the Misfits (complete with makeup). Their hushed cover of the Beach Boys' "Surfer Girl," accompanied by the liner note that this is the song they sing to their baby as they're putting her to sleep, depicts a band that's easily as "cute" as any of the boy-girl kissyface duos out there. Sparhawk is no stranger to a six string, and can do guitar-rock with casual aplomb. And for every track that displays an ear for perfectly tuned pop like "Venus" or "Don't Carry It All," there's a piece that's as tense and dark as the most foreboding moments in post-punk/rock.

A Lifetime of Temporary Relief is well worth the price of admission for the covers alone. Low re-imagines songs from Magazine, the BeeGees, the Beatles, Spacemen 3, Soul Coughing, John Denver, fellow Duluthian Bob Dylan, Tom T Hall, Jandek, Pink Floyd, and the Smiths (which got them bottled at a Manchester gig). The songs are all transmogrified into Low's continental drift-speed style. And due to the music being so warmly cooed and intimate, these covers become love letters to the bands who wrote them. The covers simultaneously illustrate the beauty behind the songs Low loves, and the love they have for performing them.

This box set wins high marks not only for the quality of music contained, but the diversity. Lifetime is a powder-blue treasure trove, rewarding all who seek out and open it. With music as beautiful and simple as this, Low can't help but be the perfect soundtrack to any season. Quiet, romantic winter evening in front of the fireplace? The intimate, whispered love songs will work. Spring Sunday morning reading on patio furniture in your parents' back yard? The ephemeral nature of many of these songs is as soothing as a breeze. Midnight autumn knife fight to defend the honor of your sister? Well....that one may be a stretch. The point is, A Lifetime of Temporary Relief runs the gamut from minimalist wizardry (with songs that sound full and epic with nothing more than simple keyboard pads and vocals), to low-key guitar heroics. Any music fan who doesn't have ADHD should be able to appreciate something in this box set. The four discs it contains stretch ahead like the perfect Saturday, waiting for a listener with whom to spend a sensually languorous afternoon.

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