Miles Davis always said that the best music is created by musicians who know when to stop playing, either for the benefit of the song or for the performance as a whole. For the past 10 years, the three members of Low -- the husband-and-wife team of guitarist/vocalist Alan Sparhawk and drummer/vocalist Mimi Parker, and bassist Zak Sally -- have taken Miles' credo to heart, fashioning some of the most breathtakingly dreamy indie pop imaginable from hushed guitar chords, barely brushed drums (Parker's entire kit consists of a snare and a cymbal) and the heart-wrenchingly human sound of arching vocal harmonies. Their most recent release, A Lifetime of Temporary Relief: 10 Years of B-Sides & Rarities, is a triple-disc-plus-DVD compilation that serves as a fitting testament to the enduring power of well-placed silences.
What's most striking when listening to this boxed set is how, well, good it all is. Although this Duluth, Minn., trio has never released a sub-par album and has, in fact, released at least two modern-day classics, it is hard to not marvel at the consistently high quality of these B-sides, in-jokes and castaways, particularly once the band hits its chronological stride at the top of the second disc. Highlights like "Venus" (featured here both in its Sub Pop single version and in its later remixed version), "Joan of Arc" and "Prisoner" are easily strong enough to have been featured album tracks, and the demo version of 1999's Secret Name standout "Will the Night" may not only be the most moving thing the band has ever recorded, but also taps into the very essence of what makes Low as great as it is. Over a simple, deliberately strummed guitar, Sparhawk's and Parker's vocals rise like woolly church spires, all shivery stillness and close-miked empathy that envelops the listener like a snowy blanket.
On a lighter note, most of the covers on this set -- ranging from Jandek's "Carnival Queen" to the (almost) note-perfect rendition of Journey's "Open Arms" -- are illuminating and surprisingly fun. (Hearing Mimi Parker sing Tom T. Hall's "... I Love," while skipping the lines about coffee, bourbon and grass due to her Mormon beliefs, is worth the price of the entire package.) The DVD is also a great addition, featuring all of their videos, along with an hour-long documentary reviewing the band's history and documentaries chronicling several recording sessions.
All in all, this set is a lovingly compiled, compulsively listenable summary of a great band, and a boon for Low collectors who have missed some of the band's harder-to-find singles and compilation tracks.