Music: A minimalist composer’s Mormon cosmology

Since Orson’s Telescope‘s Jeremy Grimshaw is working night and day to finish his dissertation (right, Jeremy? That wasn’t you I saw logged on to the Warcraft server, was it?), he has left it up to me to inform ya’ll that the Spring 2005 issue of Dialogue features his essay “Music of a ‘More Exalted Sphere’: The Sonic Cosmology of La Monte Young.”

For those, like me, who are too cheap to subscribe to Dialogue, Jeremy’s earlier article on Young — The Sonic Search for Kolob:
Mormon Cosmology and the Music of La Monte Young
— is available online (originally published in repercussions).

Read it — even if you don’t know a thing about 20th century avant garde music. What’s most interesting about the article is how Jeremy is able to infuse the right amount of Mormonism into readings of Young’s work without a) trying to overstate its influence and b) becoming self-conscious about the Mormon aspects of the project. I don’t know enough about the state of minimalist music criticism to fully critique the piece, but to my untrained eye, it seems to provide a needed corrective to the blind spot that is Mormonism for many critical studies of 19th and 20th century artists, which tend to both overdramatize and romanticize Mormonism as biography and discount it’s influence in terms of theme and form.

Music: Low’s ‘maudlin Mormon message’?

The Harvard Crimson has posted a review of a recent Low concert. It follows the typical story line of Low’s music reflecting the band’s native Dultuh and the Mormonism of two of its three members — the husband-wife team Alan Sparhawk and Mimi Parker. What’s interesting about the review, though, is that the way it describes the Mormon-ness of the band:

“Alan and Mimi, as practicing Mormons, lead a quiet lifestyle worlds removed from most of their groupies-n-gin peers. Shining through in their lyrics and in their relationship, this faith that sets them apart also brings their sound to a new level. Although less minimalist than their first release (every song title on I Could Live In Hope is one word), The Great Destroyer is just as bare and beautiful as the rest of their albums. The music, although not conducive even to foot-tapping, rewards patience and silence with a beautifully austere, wintry texture reminiscent of Duluth, even in a scene saturated with New York swagger and California ennui. The perfect complement to a cold, listless winter day, Low’s music becomes more beautiful as it becomes more familiar, their maudlin, Mormon message piercing to the bone of even the most jaded big city hipster.”

I’m not sure how “practicing” Alan and Mimi are — and on an aesthetic level, I don’t really care — but I find it interesting that the style of music that Low plays (often labeled “slowcore”) is seen as connected to their Mormonism. As part of a Mormon aesthetic. I’ve listened to some of Low’s music, but not enough to know if that’s really the case. The band members themselves tend to say that they started playing slow and spare as a reaction against the loud grunge sound (and also to just piss people off — which they apparently did at some of their early concerts).

This question of “Mormon-ness” is a difficult one. One made even more difficult when it comes to music and visual art that doesn’t explicitly feature Mormon cultural materials. I’m tempted to go off on the idea of their sound and reverence, but I don’t know their music well enough, and I think that’s a dead end idea anyway.

[Tangent]I’m not sure what’s up with the use of “maudlin.” I don’t think the adjective fits their music, but, you know, anything for a sweet use of alliteration, right? Music and film reviewers seem to be especially susceptible to its siren call.[/Tangent]

Low’s latest album “The Great Destroyer” was released Jan. 25 by Sub Pop Records. For more on Low, including to listen to samples of their music and purchase albums (plus really cool merchandise), visit Chairkickers Union Music. Low will be touring extensively in support of the new album — the West Coast swing of their tour takes place in March and April and includes stops in Salt Lake City, Seattle, San Francisco, LA and Phoenix.

POSTSCRIPT: On this day, the day that we mourn Arthur Miller’s passing, I think it’s only fitting to point out that one of the singles from Low’s latest album is titled “Death of a Salesman.” You can hear a clip from it at

Pop: The Fireside Song

There has been quite a bit of traffic over the past few days to A Motley Vision as a result of internet searches for “The Fireside Song.” I wrote about it back in September. In addition, a couple of people have e-mailed me asking where they could get a hold of a copy of the song — apparently it was played on a Utah radio station.

To hear a clip from the song, click here.

To purchase a high-quality MP3 of “The Fireside Song” for $2.99, .

Finally, as far as I can tell, the lyrics are not available on the Web.

Marketing: Tal Bachman uses ex-Mo status to sell new record

A Soft Answer has the news that it appears that Canadian pop-rock artist Tal Bachman is using his recent break from the LDS Church as part of the marketing campaign for his new album.

A Soft Answer posts this quote from a recent news story on Bachman:

“Tal Bachman has left the Mormons! Kind of makes the usual screwed-by-the-record-company story pale by comparison, doesn’t it? Bachman plays this afternoon at 3 at the Nest on the NAIT campus — a solo ‘story and song’ gig to promote his new CD, Staring Down the Sun.”

And then says: “I don’t begrudge him leaving the Church for his personal beliefs. That must have been a very hard and personal decision. But because I would think it was a hard and personal decision I don’t understand why it is the main angle on stories where he is publicizing his latest effort.”

I completely agree. In a previous post on Bachman, I tried to cut him some slack — suggesting that his openness about his alienation from the chruch was, in part, to give fair warning to his Mormon fans. At the time, it was very clear that this was an important part of his personal life and the type of change that would be important to communicate to his most rabid fans (those that would seek out his Web site).

I find it amusing, however, that it’s become an actual part of the marketing campaign. And despite the spin above, I wonder what is really gained from it.

Yes there is a long tradition of pop artists representing ‘comeback albums’ — Bachman’s last album was released five years ago — as the story of overcoming traumas and travails, but those usually involve addictions, failed relationships, accidents, health problems, major infighting among band members, and, yes, battles with record labels. But it’s not clear to me that losing one’s faith is going to be that compelling of a story to the average pop culture consumer.

As an active Mormon, Bachman was a bit of curiousity. Now he’s just another pop musician trying to make a comeback.

I could be wrong.

After all, The whole premise of these comeback albums seems to be that suffering and turmoil fuels the creative fires and theoretically leads to intense, vibrant music. Bachman’s whole journey away from faith certainly seems to have been the type of turbulent life change that can’t help but impact one’s creative endeavors.

But I don’t know that an album that is the fruit of a personal religious struggle has quite the same verve to it. It seems too subtle — an experience more appropriate for a play or novel.

Note that I’m referring to the way the album is marketed, the story told about it to consumers, and am not making an predictions about its actual aesthetic qualities. I guess I could go buy the album. But I won’t. Not because of any backlash on my part, but because Bachman doesn’t make music that I’m all that interested in. If any AMV readers do buy or listen to it and want to comment on it here or even send me a review to post, I’d love to hear from you.

ALSO: I hate to use the whole “it’s a play on words — get it?” thing again.


Did you notice that the title of Bachman’s new album is “Staring Down the Sun”?

Folk: A pioneer song

In honor of Mormon pioneer day — July 24 — a pioneer song collected by the Daughters of the Utah Pioneers that appears in pay someone to do essay the 1960 edition of History of Kane County:


Tune (Keep the Home Fires Burning)

O’er the prairies came the pleading
Of a people sore distressed,
Who sought refuge in the mountains
Of the sunny, golden west;
Here to worship God in freedom,
Build a statehood fair and strong.
Then with reverence let their daughters
Join and sing this cheery song:

Keep their memories burning,
By their history learning.
Though but few of them remain,
We love them all.
Through the azure gleaming
There’s a bright star beaming
On the banner of our land
And they placed it there.

They are sleeping on the hillside,
They are sleeping on the plain,
The who made the deseret blossom
With fields of waving grain.
Let our voices swell in praises
As the years they pass along,
And although we miss their faces
We will sing this cheery song:

Keep their memories burning,
By their history learning.
Though they sleep in silent graves,
We love them still.
Through the azure gleaming
There’s a bright star beaming
On the banner of our land
And they placed it there.

–Alfa J. Robinson (p. 257. History of Kane County. Compiled and edited by Elsie Chamberlain Carroll. Kane County Daughters of the Utah Pioneers: 1960, Salt Lake City).