The cover for the new Parker & Lily album, The Low Lows, displays a mock crumpled and ripped CD booklet that has been haphazardly reattached with soiled pieces of cellophane tape (including, of course, those little hairs). Revealing is that a rip passes directly through a picture of Lily Wolfe and Parker Noon. The cover is symbolic of the New York couple’s recent romantic break-up. In fact, The Low Lows, the duo’s third album, was recorded last spring during the final few months of Noon and Wolfe’s decade-long romance.
Noon and Wolfe’s doomed love affair was already foreshadowed on their two previous recordings. They formed as the duo Parker & Lily back in early 2000 after emerging from the group Valentine Six. Their debut release, 2001’s Hello Halo, was a collection of sweeping space dream pop with a strange blend of blissfulness and moodiness. A year later, they followed up with the somewhat darker and more complex Here Comes Winter, where the imperfections in Noon and Wolfe’s relationship became increasingly evident.
The Low Lows continues in much the same vein. The songs are longer in length and rarely stray from a minimalist and low tempo structure. The focus of this album is on atmosphere; prominent themes include heartbreak, loss, desolation, paranoia, isolation, addiction, loneliness, suffering, and alienation. Paradoxically, Parker & Lily’s songs are both intimate and yet insular. Their music has been described as the perfect score for a David Lynch movie, both haunting and melancholy.
The production on The Low Lows is generally muted and lo-fi, relying on minimalist vintage tube and tape technology. At times the production works favorably to create the sullen atmosphere, but over the course of the entire album it can become draining. The backbone of each song is centered on Noon’s reverbed baritone guitar and Wolfe’s various moody organs and keyboards. Each song is further ornamented with a variety of sparsely layered instrumentation, including cellos, violins, horns, bells, electronic drums, and steel guitars. Noon’s haunting vocals are the focal point of each song, despite their ethereal background feel. Wolfe, unfortunately only sings on a few tracks. The songs would have greatly benefited from more of her vocal input, since she is the perfect aural and emotional foil to Noon.
Noon’s lyrics continue to be sparse, poetic and cryptic. There is an element of disturbance that bubbles just below the surface, occasionally rearing its head on such tracks as “Suit of Fire” (“This suit of fire is so bright that I might burn your eyes when I decide to Flame On”), and “I Am a Gun” (“Shoot me / I am a gun / Don’t take me off the shelf / You’ll be sorry you drew me / Sorry you knew me”). Some songs are downright tragic, such as the title track and the hauntingly beautiful “June Gloom”. The simple carnival-like melody of “Users Guide” is a clever discourse on heroin addiction. The album’s centerpiece is “Candy’s Last Day”, a song about a suicide or an overdose: “It’s Candy’s last day / Pills in her pockets / There’s a smile on her face / Now and then her eyes glaze”.
The Low Lows is an accomplished work, but isn’t likely to win over many new fans. Unfortunately, The Low Lows suffers more from a lack of variety than their previous releases. Inclusion of more jazzy and playful instrumental interludes would have helped to break the psychological weightiness of this album. Perhaps, in the future, Daniel Rickard and Jeremy Wheatley—two new members from the southern musical Mecca of Athens, Georgia—will contaminate Parker & Lily with some of their rural influences. The Low Lows is a fitting eulogy to Noon and Wolfe’s love affair. With most of Parker & Lily’s material rooted in their tumultuous relationship, it will be interesting to see where the band goes now that their romance has ended.