The music world was quietly rocked this weekend when news broke that Mimi Parker – drummer, vocalist and founding member of Low – had passed away.
It seemed sudden, despite the fact that we knew she was struggling with cancer. It seemed sudden because she had stayed on the road touring with Low up until July of this year. It seemed sudden because her voice and playing seemed eternal.
Since founding Low in Duluth, Minnesota with her husband Alan Sparhawk in 1993, Parker had been a bedrock of the American alternative music scene – a standard bearer for independent music, DIY ideals, honest expression and artistic evolution. Right up to the end, she and Sparhawk continued pushing themselves, and undeniably became the rarest of things: a band making the best music of their career after nearly three decades on the scene. It is undeniable that, artistically, Parker went out on the most epic of highs.
But her work across the last 30 years has been pristine: soulful, impassioned, empathetic and challenging – the words to describe it are endless, but not enough. Of course she will be remembered for her voice, which could bring beams of white light to any dark place, but she was just as expressive and quietly emphatic behind her simplistic drum set up.
Any song from Low’s unimpeachable catalogue could be held up as a testament to Parker’s excellence, but here are 18 that stand out to the Beats Per Minute team.
Even as early as 1997, you could hear the band begin their slow evolution in making dense atmospheres of beautiful noise – not just the glacial majesty fans had become accustomed to but a true path of adaptation and reimagining. Songs for a Dead Pilot found the band edging closer to a pure and unadulterated drone, less slowcore and more dissonant beauty.
“Be There” stands out as one of the best of these early experiments from the band, a slowly amorphous ghost filled with repetitive rhythms, the graceful entanglement between Alan and Mimi’s voices, and a sense of lonesome expanse that often felt overwhelming. That cavernous beat was incredibly prescient, as the same kind of percussive alignment would become much more important to them as time went on. The roots of albums like Double Negative and HEY WHAT can be traced back to the simultaneously foreboding and euphoric theatrics of this song and the ways in which the band were radically compiling and shifting their musical structures. “Be There” feels larger and more futurist in light of later releases, and it retains its capacity to astonish and devastate all these years later. – Joshua Pickard
from The Curtain Hits The Cast (1996)
One thing the band has done over and over again, yet rarely with the same results (a testament to the scope of their talent), is craft a song with the lowest number of ingredients necessary. Simplicity can be a sign of creative lacking, or, in Low’s case, it can be an avenue to test (and show off) your skill with space, phrasing, musical plotting, and melody.
A song like “Coattails” is one of their most elemental. From their third album, the deeply spare The Curtain Hits the Cast, the song rides in a repeated chord figure for almost 90 seconds, led by Alan’s resonating guitar, Zak Sally’s bassline that’s deep but keen to stay in the background, and Mimi’s bare drumkit keeping sparkling pace. Then the layers fall away to an even more sparse setting, and Mimi’s voice intones, slowly unfurling like a sunrise across the crags, a simple utterance: “He rides on coattails.”
The line is delivered in a single note, a few times over, over the gently cycling guitar. Then, like the sun has finally fully risen, the guitar chugs back, now with a subtle synth layer behind it. It hits like a wallop, and Mimi’s voice isn’t heard again for the remaining four minutes. But it is such a signal of her gift that she brings what could seem like so little to the song, and yet comes off leaving a lasting impression, like a shadow that remains after its host has left the scene. We hear her forlorn voice cascading through the rest of the song even though it’s not there, a riptide that echoes outward; one that we will continue to hear beckoning on. – Jeremy J. Fisette
from Secret Name (1999)
At the pinnacle of their slowcore days, Low’s music was all about patience and precision. “Days Of…” is stark, coasting on lonely guitar meandering, while Parker’s instrumental presence consists of gentle glances off her crash cymbal and the occasional knock of her drum, echoing out into the blackness. It creates a deep hollow black atmosphere – but there is light, and it is in Parker’s voice which floats high above the gaping maw. “It was one of those days of salvation and loss” she intones, her voice betraying neither pity nor anger – just wide-open empathy for everyone experiencing one of those epochal moments in their lives. “Days Of…” is six minutes long and has barely any words, but never does there feel like a second that is not overwhelmed by the singer’s gracious presence. – Rob Hakimian
from Double Negative (2018)
The two lovers of Duluth’s Low meet sanctimoniously on the closer for 2018’s dystopian Double Negative; “Before it falls into total disarray / you’ll have to learn to live a different way.” It’s the kind of heeding that gets ingored by the red hats of MAGA-ville, but coming from the lips of the late Mimi Parker, no truer words could have been so foreboding as hers.
In the years since Low unleashed Double Negative, the world as we knew it fell into true disarray. The Covid pandemic rocked our worlds, and the political landscape has become so polluted that the truth is irrelevant now. Mimi is the heart of “Disarray” though, because it’s her heavenly nature that lingers. Her capacity for love was much grander than most, so to hear her utter thoughts like “This evil spirit, man, it’s bringing be down / it tells me not to do the things that I should” is undeniably saddening, but equally heart warming – such was her ability. Mimi touched so many that even in the darkest times that “Disarray” warned us of, she was still that beacon of hope.
Try as we may, we’ll never truly grasp the concepts that Double Negative was reaching for – our world is too broken. And now that Mimi’s gone, “Disarray” takes a much harder toll on me. Years before her diagnosis, she sang of truth and the desire to instil change, seemingly knowing that the future would be bleak. She had a way of taking the impending doom though and turning it into a loving embrace, all by simply opening her mouth and releasing her feelings. – Tim Sentz
from Double Negative (2018)
The sky looked very blue this morning – no clouds on azure depth. Now it’s all gone, black has descended with no moon, and I am devastated. Some things you just take for granted – some things you just think will last forever, but then it’s gone and absence cuts through you like a knife. I’m crying. I don’t know what to say.
Low seemed eternal, a puzzle box that blossomed constantly, revealing new centres as petals unfolded on each side. Pain and hope are like brother and sister, twins that come together, sometimes one speaks up and then the other one is quiet. And some day, one is gone, and then everything hurts and then there’s only tears.
I am in tears: a double negative.
Disintegrating photographs, ashes scatter, things left to time, resurrected for another run.
This isn’t OK. This isn’t right. There’s a voice here, and a heartbeat, something of the past now gone, caught briefly. Music of fleeting instances. “I thought we had it made up / After all, we had to pay up.”
Some stories make more sense once the end is there, and you see things, and they are different. When Mimi sings “Keep my body like a soldier / You’re gotta tell me when it’s over / Well, I don’t know / And I don’t mind / Take my weary bones / And fly…” it’s now something else. But it’s the same, and it always will be like this. The wings are gone, but in those words there’s so much hope. There is so much.
And this is what my head says: I’m so grateful, Mimi. I’m remorseful we never shared the same space, Mimi, as I missed those chances now gone. Your voice and ghost will stay with me, Mimi: in the art you have created, you have touched me. Some days, I will turn it up, and my spirit will fly, and I hope the wings are soft and the wind strong. In gratitude, and with tears in my eyes. Look! There it is: the moon. – John Wohlmacher
from The Invisible Way (2013)
As soon as I heard of the news, the first song that came to me was “Holy Ghost” (which was later covered by the great Mavis Staples), off the Jeff Tweedy-produced 10th album The Invisible Way. Mimi Parker’s voice had the uncanny ability to ground you as much as it could reach for divine altitudes. Here she sounds at her warmest, most nurturing, almost as if singing you a bedside lullaby. Though the tone of her voice sounds reassuring, the lyrics are simply devastating. “Feed my passion for transcendence / Turn my water into wine / Makes me wish I was empty.”
It’s a song that reminds how important it is to feel things deeply, even if that feeling is of a painful nature. For it’s a direct gauge of the love you have felt and given, and in this case, for how much this band has truly meant. Having seen Low live several times throughout the past half-decade, tears are continuously shed throughout their sets. But when “Holy Ghost” came up, that’s where I usually lost it most, especially whenever Mimi sings the line: “I don’t know much / But I can tell there’s something wrong / And something’s wrong”.
The power of “Holy Ghost” also lies in what isn’t sung, as Mimi leaves the last part of the song’s chorus unspoken: “But some holy ghost / Keeps me…” and then her voice just soars briefly and lands softly. It’s such a great example of the sparse beauty and mystery of Low’s songwriting: sometimes words can only impede on what is already completely understood. After the deluging force of “Do You Know How To Waltz” or “Pissing”, bringing it all back to the bare essence of “Holy Ghost”… only Low could pull it off. – Jasper Willems
from Things We Lost In The Fire (2001)
The band hit a bit of a breakthrough with 2001’s Things We Lost in the Fire, and it’s easy to see why. It was their most accessible album yet, with more songs approaching traditional structures of pop and rock. But it still maintained their knack for simple, mantra-like spellcasting, and the resplendent, bittersweet closer “In Metal” remains one of their finest moments.
Mimi sings over Alan’s unadorned acoustic guitar, while a Mazzy Star-but-even-slower tambourine-and-kick tattoo props us up. Singing lyrics about their first born (you can even hear their child lightly cooing in the background, a could-be-treacly touch that instead comes off loving and totally appropriate), the song is both a love letter to who this child will become and the baby they wish she’d stay forever, untainted by the world, perfect in infancy. “Wish I could keep your little body / In metal”, Mimi sings, self-harmonizing, her trademark wavering vibrato wiggling into your ear.
The song picks up momentum, as more instruments — louder drums, slightly distorted guitar, a synth line — come into the fold, and Mimi sings a few more times: “In metal, in metal, in metal”. It’s such a stirring image: keep the child you wish to protect in metal, encased, in a shell of stasis and innocence. That desire to preserve what we wish we could, and yet will never be able to, is one of those nearly ineffable cravings of life, one of the cruel cosmic jokes of the universe. Nothing stays the same, at least not forever, least of all humans.
It’s a motif that now reads as almost impossible to listen to in light of Mimi’s untimely loss. But “In Metal” remains a shining moment for the band and for Mimi — her voice rich and plaintive, an ever-versatile instrument — conveying such pride and melancholy without turning dour or bitter. Life is beautiful, tender, and ephemeral. Better live it while you can. – Jeremy J. Fisette
from Ones and Sixes (2015)
On Ones and Sixes, their first album with producer BJ Burton, Low stepped fully into a new musical arena, one where noise and dissonant movements were valued for their own tectonic possibilities. This aesthetic would find a full realization on Double Negative and HEY WHAT in the following years, but it had been obvious for some time that the band had become enamored with the idea of how harsh and roughhewn sounds could function as a vehicle for unfiltered emotion.
On “The Innocents”, they designed an experimental rock perspective where thudding beats developed a recognizable gravity around shimmering guitar lines and the gorgeous harmonies between Mimi and Alan. There was still a lingering trace of their slowcore roots, but it was clear that the band was interested in shifting their attention from past works. This led Ones and Sixes to be seen as a transitional album in their discography, the moment when epochal rhythms finally gave way to ragged grace and a more immediate sense of gratification. Among other things, this sea change was guided by Mimi’s crystalline voice, a sound so affecting that it was hard to hold back tears when first exposed to its gentle yet powerful energy. “The Innocents” is proof that the evolution of Low from meditative storytellers to purveyors of noisy catharses was as well-earned as it was emotionally staggering. – Joshua Pickard
“Just Like Christmas”
from Christmas (1999)
“Despite the commerce involved, we hope you will consider this our gift to you.” These were the words I read when I first opened the packaging for Low’s Christmas EP back in 1999. And all these years later, I continue to cherish these seasonal recordings in that giving spirit.
Opening track “Just Like Christmas”, a gloriously welcoming song about the wear and tear of touring and the occasional bit of beauty that can be found in those transitory moments, has become one of my go-to Christmas songs, a reverent and joyful thing anchored by Parker’s comforting voice and offering a sense of camaraderie in a world that can sometimes make it difficult to share affection with those around you. It brings to mind images of sleigh bells shivering in the cold winter air, of snow falling and remaking the world into something clean and pure, and of two people celebrating their love for one another and for those they hold dear. This song will always glow in my mind; it will always be radiant despite its colder climes, and every time I hear it I feel a solace, a warmth against the encroaching dark – and the smile it evokes cannot be easily driven away. – Joshua Pickard
from Things We Lost In The Fire (2001)
The first time I saw Low perform (out of many times), they finished the night with “Laser Beam”. The band had been in exquisite form the whole show, solidifying themselves as one of the most important bands in my musical lexicon, but when Parker became the centre of attention for “Laser Beam”, the whole world shifted on its axis for a moment.
It’s not as if she did anything differently to what she had been doing the whole night, providing steadfast percussion and impeccable vocals, but suddenly, with her voice almost isolated and projected out into every crack and corner of the venue, she seemed to grow to enormous proportions: her heart and soul was projected onto all of us.
The feeling still persists when I play the studio version now. Parker’s voice is perfectly recorded; if there were any quivers you’d hear them, but there aren’t – her tone and focus is as perfect as the titular “Laser Beam”. It makes this gentle lullaby to a loved one even more piercing in its simple message: I don’t care about your shortcomings, I don’t need anything special, all I need is your grace. She had every right to expect that standard from her loved ones – she carried herself gracefully in everything she did. – Rob Hakimian
from I Could Live In Hope (1994)
Few tracks capture the intimacy of Low’s beginnings while also hinting at the all-encompassing nature that would define their future than “Lullaby”. The heart and centerpiece of I Could Live in Hope, which started it all for Low, it turns out that the band’s first defining moment was also pierced with startling clairvoyance.
To grasp Parker’s seer-like powers on “Lullaby”, one must commit the cardinal sin of stripping a song of its meaning within the context of an entire record. A lullaby delivered by an omnipresent narrator to console amid death, change, or transition, the track has sprouted new roots and new meaning with the devastating departure of our dear Parker. Her ethereal words now reverberate into the bleak void of finality with a statement of immense emotional magnitude — “I sang.” At nearly 10 minutes in length, the track features only 38 words, but Parker delivers each one with care and precision — none as impressionable as her last two words. This phrase represents the genesis of an incomparable talent that would go on to touch so many hearts for three decades, but it also signifies an inevitable end that we all will eventually share. With Parker’s departure from this earth, “I sang” is her victorious, long-standing epitaph. – Kyle Kohner
from HEY WHAT (2021)
All analysis is rooted in our personal understanding of music. Sometimes it’s easy to navigate transparent intention, while other times meaning reveals itself only much later. When HEY WHAT came out, the staff of Beats Per Minute marvelled at the intense structures of each song, reading the record as a hopeful evolution of the gloom and doom of the abstract turmoil in Double Negative. The record sounded like a conscious, euphoric battle against the darkness that beset the world since 2020, cloaked within the geography of the cliffs, the storms and waves of the band’s home Duluth. Some even dared to read it as political.
But now, as I write this – a day after receiving the tragic news of Mimi Parker’s passing and trying to make sense of my overbearing sadness – it’s hard to read HEY WHAT as anything but a brave, defiant struggle with mortality. The parallel to Bowie’s Blackstar now seems inevitable, as the record opens with the lines “The consequences of leaving / Would be more cruel if I should stay”. Given that the record uses classic Christian symbolism, it should have been – or could have been – deductible. Some truths are just too harsh to focus on.
It’s this what makes “More” all the more incredible. It’s barely over two minutes long, a barren folk song in its skeletal structure, sung over a horrifically distorted gothic organ, closer to Merzbow and Lingua Ignota than to Simon and Garfunkel or Neil Young. And it’s in its naked strength of angry lyricism that the song now becomes a battle cry against death: “I gave more than what I should’ve lost / I paid more than what it would’ve cost / You have some of what I could’ve had / I want all of what I didn’t have”. It’s deeply poetic and spiritual, a matter of fact analysis of the will to live. And it’s deeply sad! “I saw more than what I ever sought / I should have asked for more than what I got”.
We all age, and we all worry, but read through the lens of the grim reality of facing death, Mimi’s voice and those lines carry, in their simplicity, backed by the impending doom of the screaming organ, a level of storytelling that transcends most other music. Whether this was intentional or not remains obscure, but in this moment, “More” sits among the greatest rock songs ever written. – John Wohlmacher
from The Curtain Hits The Cast (1996)
Low have the ability to make their songs appear as large as entire worlds and as intimate as a conversation shared between lovers at 2am. “The Plan” is a perfect example of this and was among the very first songs I ever heard from the band.
Mimi’s voice is so vivid and otherworldly that it catches you off guard in its plainspoken grace. Nothing moves quickly here, and the music drifts by like smoke from a distant fire. It’s warm and heartbreaking and confounds me every time I hear it. Ambling by without much in the way of guidance, its languorous pace allows us to sink slowly into its depths, calmly and effortlessly submerging our bodies into the meticulous wonders of its rhythmic nuances. Soon it becomes difficult to parse out where we end and the song begins, such is its enveloping nature. But the band isn’t wandering blindly here; they know just how loose to hold its reins and when to nudge the music back into its track. It’s a song that feels quite improvisational, as if it was plucked spontaneously from some melodic ether and given back to those vague landscapes just as quickly. – Joshua Pickard
from Long Division (1995)
“Shame” captures Low at their most mysterious and beguiling, and its gorgeously shot Twin Peaks-like video is the perfect visual extension. Mimi looks absolutely mesmeric in the shot where the camera slowly zooms into the ballroom onto the band, wielding the drumsticks as if they’re magic wands warping the space itself. Sparhawk’s subtle backing vocals sound almost inhuman, like a drone from some dim underworld giving the music this eerie undercurrent. The sparse, moonlit guitars and lurching bass never overlap, making ample room for that radiant voice to fully illuminate. Though desolate and morose, “Shame” puts the listener under a trance-like spell, a quivering light at the end of the cave guiding you through the dark. – Jasper Willems
from I Could Live In Hope (1994)
Low’s debut, I Could Live in Hope, introduced Mimi Parker and Alan Sparhawk’s signature blend of instrumental sparseness, hypnotic melodies, and delicate yet stirring harmonies. On the album’s fourth track, “Slide,” Parker’s drums drag slightly behind Sparhawk’s crystalline guitar, helping to define the track’s narcotized feel (and theslowcore subgenre).
Parker displays her vocal skills, sounding mournful yet invigorated, funereal yet quietly manic. The word “slide,” in the context of the song, points to a falling backwards, invoking the imminence of death. On the other hand, it also conjures a sense of fluidity, what the Romantics might call beautiful impermanence. “Slide” integrates heaviness and lightness, a sense of loss and becoming, buoyant grief and melancholic ecstasy. Low would further develop these paradoxical dynamics throughout their oeuvre, including on The Great Destroyer, which showed them maneuvering a mid-2000’s indie/art-rock zeitgeist; and their final two albums, Double Negative and Hey What, which ventured more consummately into noisescapes and futuristic gestalts. Whatever stylistic direction Low embraced, wherever their curiosity led them, their music remained uniquely evocative. – John Amen
“Stay” (Rihanna cover)
from “Stay” single (2013)
As sonically pioneering as Low’s music could be – especially on their last two records – the band proved they could mainstream-friendly pop in that same arresting fashion. Alan Sparhawk told me in an interview in 2016 that recording the oft-covered “Stay” was Mimi’s idea, as she was instantly smitten by the song. Low’s rendition is surprisingly faithful sonically to Rihanna and Mikky Ekko’s version, yet astoundingly, the emotional weight behind this duet couldn’t be of a more different nature.
Whereas the original is a pleading standoff between two young estranged lovers in a spat, Low effortlessly spin the song into an urgent account of the motions of longtime marriage. The main hook “Round and around and around we go” isn’t a conveyance of a dysfunction, but a tender acknowledgement of intimacy and romance within the thralls of life, and how that has mattered most. It’s beyond moving. – Jasper Willems
from HEY WHAT (2021)
The first sounds of Low’s most recent masterpiece HEY WHAT are of disortion on “White Horses,” before a thunderstorm of guitars, and the dual harmonies of Alan and Mimi, singing “The consequences of leaving / Would be more cruel than if I should stay.” The dynamic range of the two is unparalleled, but while Alan takes lead for most of this track, it’s Mimi’s extended release after each line – most notably her chilling “stay” – that remains embedded in my ears.
Long after the outro of clicks that segues into “I Can Wait”, Mimi’s voice still hangs over us. When first hearing “White Horses” it was Mimi that I couldn’t shake. I still can’t, nor do I want to. It’s as if time stopped all around us, and Mimi sang directly to me, and all that was left was her echoing in my mind, that brief, three seconds of absolute perfection, all contained in a single portion of a word: “stay”. It seems ludicrous, no, for one to be comforted by the negative space that breathes airiness into her voice, but for those three seconds nothing else matters. – Tim Sentz
“You See Everything”
from C’mon (2011)
“Pick it up / Lay it down / Life’s too short / To be your clown.” These were the lyrics that immediately sprang to mind when I heard about the untimely death of Mimi Parker. The words come from the delicate and charming “You See Everything” from Low’s ninth studio album C’mon. The record’s cover is a silhouette of Mimi behind her drum kit while bright lights radiate around her. The image is at once unassuming and also spectacular. Much like Low.
Mimi’s voice is bruised and beautiful, occasionally harmonising with itself, at other times weaving seamlessly with Alan’s vocal lines. The merging of the voices gives unity to the pair, an enviable binding of spirit and the physical. We’re lucky to have access to such intimacy and such connection that few ever get to confidently realise in their own personal lives. And that’s why Low hit so hard – their lyrics are never overly complex, yet the humanity and beauty contained within them, and their delivery, is spellbinding.
“You See Everything” has a strummed guitar line which is a rarity in Low’s aural template. The purity in Mimi’s voice is like few others, and soars above the instrumentation. The optimism in the song is heartening, with “Come on in / The water’s fine” being a rallying call for the experience of life in general. The denouement of “You see everything / That I don’t” highlights the reliance on one another to create the whole, and right now this line stings like hell. A beautiful song. – Todd Dedman