It’s just too easy. Low songs played by bands just as glacial and quiet as the Duluth trio just seems…well, easy. Why don’t we try playing them death metal style? Or punk? Or IDM? Now those are interesting ideas. But, I have to admit, they’re also really bad ones. Slayer covering “Over the Ocean?” Aphex Twin re-working “Dinosaur Act?” Or how about Rancid’s version of “Canada?” No, that would just be horrible. And that’s why We Could Live in Hope is what it is — a tribute album that plays it safe, because that’s the only way to go about covering Low songs.
As I’ve said before on this page, a safe tribute runs the risk of being a boring one. But that isn’t necessarily the case on We Could Live in Hope. What makes this collection work is the strength of the originals. Though it’s true that most of these bands don’t get overly adventurous, Low’s distinct sound in the hands of anyone the slightest bit different actually sounds novel. You know a Low song when you hear it, but in the hands of these 12 artists, the result is quite different than what you’d expect.
Daniel G. Harmann and A Northern Chorus perform dreamy takes on “Words” and “Slide,” respectively, sharing more in common with bands like Slowdive than Low. Pale Horse and Rider turn “Fear” into a pedal steel driven country ballad. The Strugglers play “Cut” with chugging, though benevolent, guitar chords. And Jessica Bailiff’s interpretation of “Down” is downright haunting, thanks to a heavy reverb treatment on her vocals.
Some of the best tracks, unsurprisingly, are by the better-known artists on the compilation. Mark Kozelek is characteristically graceful in his cover of “Lazy.” Idaho infuses “Rope” with their gorgeous layers of piano, eerie vocals and sampled drums. And His Name is Alive closes the album with their take on “Sunshine,” which was not written by Low, obviously, but is included for continuity. Nonetheless, the re-working of the track is joyous, even at a molasses pace.
Tribute albums are rarely much of a surprise, and this case is no exception. But that doesn’t mean it’s not good. Some songs don’t need a lot of work to be put into an entirely different context. In the case of Low, just a little tinkering turns the songs into something new. I’m just saying, I’d still be interested in hearing The Flaming Lips or Spoon play a Low song. But that doesn’t mean I’m not satisfied with the results on this compilation.
Low – I Could Live in Hope
Various Artists – Preserve, Volume One
Red House Painters – Songs for a Blue Guitar
Jeff Terich is the founder and editor of Treble. He's been writing about music for 20 years and has been published at American Songwriter, Bandcamp Daily, Reverb, Spin, Stereogum, uDiscoverMusic, VinylMePlease and some others that he's forgetting right now. He's still not tired of it.