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In 1993, some 16 years after David Bowie issued a brilliantly innovative album called Low and a year before Cracker released a fairly pedestrian hit single called "Low," an indie band from Duluth, Minnesota (previously famous only for being the hometown of Bob Dylan) dubbed itself Low and began playing music rather unlike anything any other indie band was playing. How so? Well, it was very, very slow. OK, sure, other bands had earned their bread and butter playing at slow tempos before, and even Codeine predated Low in terms of the hauntingly minimal, ultra-shut-down, poignant and sad musical aesthetic soon to be referred to -- rather absurdly -- as "slowcore," but Low came to exemplify this whispery, austere approach. This is partly because with Low, the style has never seemed even remotely self-conscious or indulgent, only desolately beautiful. It's easy to draw parallels between their wintry sound and the winter landscape of their native state; their stark, snowy songs are characterized by vast emptiness, defined as much by what isn't there as by what is.

The group derives much of its minimalist loveliness from the exquisitely fragile, profoundly weary singing voices of Mimi Parker (drums) and Alan Sparhawk (guitar). The husband-and-wife songwriting duo began crafting their stark, glacially torpid paeans to sorrow without much musical background, only a very clear idea and aesthetic. Their first bassist was John Nichols, who left after a year to start Best Boy Electric. Zak Sully replaced him and has played bass for the group ever since. Together the trio has slowly developed and matured, maintaining their geologically slow tempos while warming up their sound some with hauntingly lovely piano parts, strings as velvety and gorgeous as sweet summer nights, and achingly delicate percussion. Low's stylistic experiments are always sublimely understated and always conducted with the utmost grace and elegance.

Low has always caught a lot of heat, in part for Sparhawk and Parker's religious affiliation (they're Mormons) and sometimes spiritually oriented lyrics, but more for their extreme seriousness, lack of irony, and general stylistic "unhipness." That comes from people made uncomfortable by the trio's unwavering emotional intensity. It's undeserved. Low is making some of the most powerful and breathtakingly beautiful music in any genre today.

The group has released seven LPs and a handful of EPs and singles since 1994, most on Kranky and Vernon Yard. Their most recent is 2001's The Things We Lost in the Fire, a record as brooding as ever, but perhaps less frigid and more accessibly melodious than any previous Low release. Steve Albini's typically stripped-down production helps give the album's songs even greater emotional impact. The album features the typically melancholy opening ballad "Sunflower" and the four-minute epic "In Metal," which begins coolly brooding, but then, like a sunburst, transforms into a soaring blue-skied pop song. Magnificent.