PopMatters is moving to WordPress. We will publish a few essays daily while we develop the new site. We hope the beta will be up sometime late next week.

Low Skies: I Have Been to Beautiful Places

Dave Dierksen

As captivating as this record is, one wonders how much more effective it might be if we could hear all of the words.

Low Skies

I Have Been to Beautiful Places

Label: Flameshovel
US Release Date: 2004-09-07
UK Release Date: Available as import

Sometimes beauty can be born out of spontaneity. The explosive power of inspiration, when harnessed quickly, will often yield the most exciting art. Overworking a piece can kill its energy. On the flipside, art can also be rushed. From a songwriting standpoint, sometimes it's better to flesh out an idea so that it might reach its full potential. Low Skies' newest EP I Have Been to Beautiful Places is a pretty good example of how quick delivery can work for and against the artist.

Originally conceived as a demo, this EP was recorded live to 2-track over a 72-hour period last year. The music is a mixed bag of country, blues, and formula-free rock 'n' roll. It's even slightly jazzy: drummer Jason Creps frequently strays from the kick/snare/fill routine, choosing instead to grace each tune with loose rhythms and tom-tom-emphatic beats. The result is almost tribal, which fits, considering how primal are the emotions on this recording.

If you listen to I Have Been to Beautiful Places as a collection of five stand-alone tracks, what you'll hear is a trade-off between moments of greatness and stretches of slipshod and slightly self-indulgent jamming. It's similar to Wilco's A Ghost is Born in that respect. Unlike Wilco's latest, however, which is stylistically all over the place, Low Skies have created a single piece that -- while not always coherent in sound -- is coherent in concept. I recommend listening to Beautiful Places from start to finish, like you'd watch a film. Divided, these tracks lose impact, but united, the inconsistency makes sense.

With this release, Low Skies have brought us a musical representation of the anti-hero -- the ex-con, the lone gunslinger, the sullied cool cat. For this man, heartbreak is a common occurrence, and it don't mean nothin' anymore -- it's a mosquito bite in the grand scheme. Do you want to go toe-to-toe and compare scars? Our man in black will win that one hands down. This is someone for whom death and tragedy are a way of life -- a given. And rather than cry about it, he takes another shot and keeps on trucking.

As he enters your local bar, the opening to lead-off track "Five's Gone Quiet" accompanies him. The slow shuffle hits hard. The vocals slur through tales of a lady left behind: "Now she's used / But she used to be mine". This is easily the most solid tune on the record. Yes, it is the catchiest, but it's also the most focused. The beat is loud and steady. The tone says approach with caution.

"New Deal", the second track, goes the other way -- an eight-minute black cloud that even Jeff Tweedy might find too meandering and depressing. It nevertheless succeeds in invoking a tortured atmosphere. This is the dark heart of our protagonist -- the side he doesn't want you to see. It's the weakness, the breakdown-in-waiting, struggling to get out through cracked wails and screams. Perhaps the nakedness of the track is what makes it so hard to digest, like watching your father cry.

Thankfully, on "Pull It Over", singer Chris Salveter's confident delivery, over bluesy guitar riffs, signifies the return of our hero's calm, cool, and collected exterior. What pushes this track from good to great is the ambient organ lurking throughout. It fills the air with reverence. The barroom has become the church, and Salveter has become the preacher.

By the time "Ready to Be Done" rolls around, our man is a bit on the drunk side; while his subject matter is mired in doom, at least his melodies are a bit brighter. Creps moves to the toms as Salveter's chorus rings equally of alt-country and old school Brit-pop.

Perhaps it should have ended there, because the last track, "Funeral Pew", greets us from a state of total inebriation. Listening to it, one wonders if the members of Low Skies slept at all through the 72-hour spawning of this EP. And did they perhaps record the songs in the order that they appear? This final track reeks of sleep deprivation. It's as if the band gathered up all the loose ends of the previous tracks and thought it would be a good idea to strew them around a song all of their own. The result is about what you'd expect: it's all over the place, much like our imaginary character might be after six shots of tequila. Not only are the lyrics hard to grasp, there doesn't seem to be much of a melody -- half-spoken lines and sloppy falsettos waver over regurgitated, noisy guitar hooks.

It's fitting. We began sober and solid. And now we end in a drunken mess. I don't know if this was purposeful, but it does give the listener a sense of journey. Unfortunately, the accuracy of my conceptual imaginings remains to be seen. Salveter's wicked vocal swagger may be able to channel Jeff Buckley, Bono, Morrisey, and even Thom Yorke, but the words still come out blurry. This could be down to the recording methods, but it is nevertheless a shame. As captivating as this record is, one wonders how much more effective it might be if we could hear every word of each dark tale. Or perhaps it's the mystery of it all that keeps us listening over and over again.


Please Donate to Help Save PopMatters

PopMatters have been informed by our current technology and hosting provider that we have less than a month, until November 6, to move PopMatters off their service or we will be shut down. We are moving to WordPress and a new host, but we really need your help to save the site.





Laura Veirs Talks to Herself on 'My Echo'

The thematic connections between these 10 Laura Veirs songs and our current situation are somewhat coincidental, or maybe just the result of kismet or karmic or something in the zeitgeist.


15 Classic Horror Films That Just Won't Die

Those lucky enough to be warped by these 15 classic horror films, now available on Blu-ray from The Criterion Collection and Kino Lorber, never got over them.


Sixteen Years Later Wayne Payne Follows Up His Debut

Waylon Payne details a journey from addiction to redemption on Blue Eyes, The Harlot, The Queer, The Pusher & Me, his first album since his 2004 debut.


Every Song on the Phoenix Foundation's 'Friend Ship' Is a Stand-Out

Friend Ship is the Phoenix Foundation's most personal work and also their most engaging since their 2010 classic, Buffalo.


Kevin Morby Gets Back to Basics on 'Sundowner'

On Sundowner, Kevin Morby sings of valleys, broken stars, pale nights, and the midwestern American sun. Most of the time, he's alone with his guitar and a haunting mellotron.


Lydia Loveless Creates Her Most Personal Album with 'Daughter'

Given the turmoil of the era, you might expect Lydia Loveless to lean into the anger, amplifying the electric guitar side of her cowpunk. Instead, she created a personal record with a full range of moods, still full of her typical wit.


Flowers for Hermes: An Interview with Performing Activist André De Shields

From creating the title role in The Wiz to winning an Emmy for Ain't Misbehavin', André De Shields reflects on his roles in more than four decades of iconic musicals, including the GRAMMY and Tony Award-winning Hadestown.


The 13 Greatest Horror Directors of All Time

In honor of Halloween, here are 13 fascinating fright mavens who've made scary movies that much more meaningful.


British Jazz and Soul Artists Interpret the Classics on '​Blue Note Re:imagined'

Blue Note Re:imagined provides an entrance for new audiences to hear what's going on in British jazz today as well as to go back to the past and enjoy old glories.


Bill Murray and Rashida Jones Add Another Shot to 'On the Rocks'

Sofia Coppola's domestic malaise comedy On the Rocks doesn't drown in its sorrows -- it simply pours another round, to which we raise our glass.


​Patrick Cowley Remade Funk and Disco on 'Some Funkettes'

Patrick Cowley's Some Funkettes sports instrumental renditions from between 1975-1977 of songs previously made popular by Donna Summer, Herbie Hancock, the Temptations, and others.


The Top 10 Definitive Breakup Albums

When you feel bombarded with overpriced consumerism disguised as love, here are ten albums that look at love's hangover.


Dustin Laurenzi's Natural Language Digs Deep Into the Jazz Quartet Format with 'A Time and a Place'

Restless tenor saxophonist Dustin Laurenzi runs his four-piece combo through some thrilling jazz excursions on a fascinating new album, A Time and a Place.


How 'Watchmen' and 'The Boys' Deconstruct American Fascism

Superhero media has a history of critiquing the dark side of power, hero worship, and vigilantism, but none have done so as radically as Watchmen and The Boys.


Floodlights' 'From a View' Is Classicist Antipodal Indie Guitar Pop

Aussie indie rockers, Floodlights' debut From a View is a very cleanly, crisply-produced and mixed collection of shambolic, do-it-yourself indie guitar music.


CF Watkins Embraces a Cool, Sophisticated Twang on 'Babygirl'

CF Watkins has pulled off the unique trick of creating an album that is imbued with the warmth of the American South as well as the urban sophistication of New York.


Helena Deland Suggests Imagination Is More Rewarding Than Reality on 'Something New'

Canadian singer-songwriter Helena Deland's first full-length release Someone New reveals her considerable creative talents.


While the Sun Shines: An Interview with Composer Joe Wong

Joe Wong, the composer behind Netflix's Russian Doll and Master of None, articulates personal grief and grappling with artistic fulfillment into a sweeping debut album.

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.