Warning: The following story contains graphic descriptions of chord progressions as well as references to Burt Bacharach and Billy Joel.
When Low vs Diamond plays Denver next week, it will be a kind of homecoming. Yet even those who caught the band's original incarnation in Boulder, where three of its members attended college, are unlikely to connect the jam band of five years ago with the current Los Angeles-based incarnation. The group's concise, melodic and melodramatic alt-rock songs suggest a fascination with artists like Roxy Music and even Serge Gainsbourg.
"In Boulder, as you can imagine, you don't end up playing too many early Stones or Bowie songs," says frontman Lucas Field. "It's more like playing seven songs for three hours, so that's what we would do. I thought playing 20-minute songs was a difficult thing, but writing a three-minute song is a lot harder."
True, but Field and company are more than up to the task. Their self-titled debut album (on Red Ink/Sony) includes at least two instantly memorable latter-day classics: the upbeat "Killer B" and the emotionally epic "Heart Attack." Check out YouTube for their live rendering of the latter on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno, as well as a haunting video in which Field and his wife grow ancient, die and decompose in the course of a single kiss. Think Warhol meets Cronenberg, but with a better soundtrack.
Field says the idea was to make a video that was "so intimate and so bizarre" that people would either love it or hate it. Indeed, YouTube comments range from the breathless ("best video ever") to the bewildering ("I could totally picture a more dramatic video").
"My dad, who's 60, and his friends totally got it," says Field. "He was very emotional about it. He was like, 'I'm telling you, that's how my fucking life feels. I feel like I was my younger self two days ago.' I don't think a lot of 19-year-old boys may understand that video.
"Hopefully you're not gonna end up as crumbling and ugly as those people," he adds, "but you never know."
In the meantime, Field is quick to acknowledge his song's musical influences. On "Heart Attack," he says, "I stay on an E minor chord, like a Pink Floyd or Talking Heads song, and then all of a sudden break out this huge chorus, where I was basically trying to copy Bryan Ferry."
"This is Your Life," meanwhile, started out sounding like a Billy Joel song, but when transposed from piano to guitar, ended up sounding like T. Rex.
And then there's Bacharach: "When I wrote the chorus to 'Don't Forget Sister,' which goes D minor 7 to D sharp 7, it's like something out of Burt Bacharach's catalog. If I played it for you on piano, you'd crack up."
Field, it turns out, gives Bacharach much more credit than most rock enthusiasts.
"I think the whole first Strokes album, if you just added a few things, could be a Bacharach album," he insists. "When I listen to Bacharach, I feel like I hear something totally different than people who think it sounds like supermarket music. I hear serious composition and serious melodies that you can remember. And it's like, that's the whole idea."