Terrible news emerged at the weekend as Alan Sparhawk announced the death of his wife and bandmate, Mimi Parker. It had been revealed a few months ago that she was battling ovarian cancer but the speed of her demise is shocking. As well as being the drummer and co-vocalist in Low, Parker also seemed to be the anchor for both the band and her family.
To explain the impact of Mimi Parker and the band Low, it’s worth turning your mind back to 1994. Arguably the ‘peak grunge’ moment, with Kurt Cobain’s suicide and the preponderance of original Seattle bands Pearl Jam and Soundgarden, as well as a slew of imitators, Low came from somewhere else entirely. A couple in a life relationship, as well as musical, they were raised in the Mormon faith in Duluth, Minnesota. Playing as slowly and quietly as possible, they had no real peers when they released 1994’s I Could Live In Hope.
A perfect distillation of their early sound, the muted, downbeat instrumentation was perfectly complemented by Parker and Alan Sparhawk’s vocal harmonies. They continued in this vein for a couple of albums (Shame) and EPs.
They began to stretch themselves in 1996 with the release of The Curtain Hit the Cast, and it featured a fourteen-minute, borderline ambient shoegaze piece, Do You Know How To Waltz
The band started gathering attention towards the end of the nineties, Steve Albini worked with them on 1999’s Secret Name (Two Step). That same year they released what is one of the best Christmas albums ever (Just Like Christmas).
A remarkably consistent band, they never released any bad albums, and live they were extremely visceral, with a captivating presence, irrespective of the venue. Adding noisier elements to their sound in the 00s worked well for them, with heavier guitars creeping in on Trust and The Great Destroyer. There was always time for a low-key Parker classic (Tonight ).
There were several left turns: the processed Drums and Guns (Sandinista), and a few years later, the almost rootsy, Jeff Tweedy produced Invisible Way (Holy Ghost https://youtu.be/ja9AAfKa6Lg). Of late, they detonated their sound on their two most recent albums, the confrontational sounding Double Negative and Hey What.
There was a sense that this was a whole new chapter for the band with a wholly original, ground-breaking sound. The band also became even more beloved by their fans during the recent pandemic, performing their songs on Instagram and giving a little insight into their life in their home place of Duluth, Minnesota. I was lucky enough to see them a handful of times in Dublin, including a memorable Christmas show in 2016. I also met Mimi Parker, briefly, four years ago.
Now her life has been cruelly ended, Parker taken from her family in her mid-fifties. The band has left us with one of the strongest, most consistent back catalogues in modern music. Listen to any album and let it get under your skin. Savour their intertwining voices. You’ll never forget that sound. Mimi Parker RIP.